Alberta Education launches user survey on SLAs

January 13, 2015

Teacher feedback is vital to ensure appropriate changes are made

Teachers and administrators involved in the pilot administration of the Grade 3 Student Learning Assessment (SLA) program last fall are being invited to submit feedback to Alberta Education to inform revisions to the assessment’s implementation. Alberta Education has posted a survey on its website (available at bit.ly/SLAsurvey) that states "there is significant opportunity to ensure that by the time the pilot process has concluded, the SLAs are ready for full-scale administration."

The SLAs are being implemented to help teachers and parents identify student strengths and areas for improvement at the beginning of the year and as a replacement for the Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) that were conducted at the end of the school year. Nearly every school jurisdiction in the province participated in the pilot, which was conducted between Sept. 29 and Oct. 24.

Shortly after implementation began, teachers started expressing concerns related to technology and support, as well as the time required to plan, implement and mark the performance assessments. The Association set up a web page where teachers could submit their experiences, and it relayed those experiences to government officials.

"It appears that the government is hearing the concerns of teachers, acknowledging that the implementation needs to be improved and trying to collect the information they need to get it right," says Mark Ramsankar, ATA president.

Ramsankar says the Association has been advocating for changes to the PATs and believes that SLAs are a better alternative to PATs. He also noted that the government has, at least initially, responded favourably to Association concerns about the potential misuse of the data gathered by SLAs.

On Dec. 3, Alberta Education sent a memo to school board superintendents stating that it would report the results only to teachers for use in conversations with parents and not include separate reports for parents, schools or school jurisdictions.

Ramsankar, acknowledging the engagement of Education Minister Gordon Dirks on the file, says this represents an important step in ensuring that the student data and reports generated by the very problematic initial pilot do not create further confusion and difficulties for students and parents, or add considerable work for teachers.

J-C Couture, the ATA’s associate co-ordinator of research and its lead on SLAs, says it is important that parents be provided with the SLA data in the context provided by classroom teachers. He says that sound assessment practice is predicated on the use of multiple sources of information and that the SLA program was initially supposed to enhance the information teachers provided to students and parents.

Couture says that, given the widespread difficulties encountered in the pilot, teachers should carefully review the SLA information that appears on the teacher dashboard regarding both the group and individual student reports and consider the context of individual students’ previous and current progress when determining how they report to parents.

While the government memo states that "it is incumbent upon teachers to share the SLA results with parents," Couture says there is no requirement that the individual student report be distributed to parents. Parents who request a hard copy of the SLA digital report can obtain it by contacting the department of education.

Ramsankar is encouraging teachers to complete the Alberta Education teacher survey, and he says he will continue to advocate for improvements to the SLA program to ensure that meaningful information is provided to teachers, students and parents. He also says the Association will continue to raise concerns expressed by teachers about the impacts of implementation on classrooms "alongside the obvious shift of the SLA program away from supporting teaching and learning to a focus on gathering decontextualized data that could easily become another way to oil the broken accountability machinery built twenty years ago."

In a letter sent to Ramsankar in December, Education Minister Gordon Dirks agreed to have a discussion with the Association about its suggestions for supporting successful implementation of future SLAs.

Teachers who want to discuss the matter further can contact J-C Couture at 780-447-9462 or jc.couture@ata.ab.ca. ❚