SLAs to become optional for teachers

May 30, 2017
Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

Education minister delivers welcome news at Annual Representative Assembly

Starting next school year, Alberta teachers will decide for themselves whether or not to administer the Grade 3 Student Learning Assessment (SLA), announced Education Minister David Eggen on Saturday.

Speaking at the Annual Representative Assembly of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, Eggen said the last three years have shown the SLA program to be a “valuable tool” but “not necessarily useful in every circumstance.”

“Teachers will be able to use their professional judgment to decide for themselves whether keeping the SLAs will benefit the students in their classroom,” he said in his speech to delegates.

The 450 delegates gathered at Edmonton’s Westin greeted the news with applause and a standing ovation.

Eggen went on to say that the SLA program will continue to evolve.

“We will continue to improve the SLAs ... as an assessment tool and we will engage in a broader conversation about public assurance in education in the months ahead,” he said.

SLAs have been piloted at the Grade 3 level since 2014, with the promise of replacing provincial achievement testing for grades 3, 6 and 9.

Concerns emerged from teachers shortly after the program’s introduction. Teachers were initially concerned about how the results would be used and the extent to which they would be made public. They also expressed concern about the amount of time required to administer and mark the assessment and about their authority to decide when and how to administer it.

Following his announcement, Eggen said in an interview that making the tests optional was the right move because their timing at the beginning of the school year was a common concern and the technological aspect of the digital tool was a challenge in some regions.

“I worked very closely with boards to ensure that their needs are being met and … I think that choice is an important component so that’s what I’m offering here today,” he said.

About 20 per cent of Alberta’s school boards administered SLAs last year, Eggen said, adding that he’s “very curious” to see how many teachers choose to use the tool.

“Lots of teachers have told me anecdotally that they’re interested in using it as a tool and I’ve heard other things as well, so we’ll get a full lay of the land here come fall.”

One ARA delegate approached Eggen and said, “I can’t wait to tell the Grade 3 teachers at my school.”

Association president Mark Ramsankar also reacted positively in his speech to ARA delegates. He said SLAs should be a tool that helps teachers with their programming rather than “help maintain a data cycle so that we can compare districts, schools and classrooms.”

“I’m heartened by Minister Eggen’s announcement today,” Ramsankar said. “We have been pressing for this since the inception of SLAs.”

After a story about the news was posted on the Association’s Facebook page, teachers responded with a variety of opinions questions.

“I don’t see how that will work if your division or principal is still in favour,” wrote Christa Nicole. “Some will do it and some won’t. You know what kind of problems this is going to create? Either get rid of it or don’t.”

“This is the beginning of the end,” wrote Dave Thiara.

“Seems like a lot of money wasted to determine teachers are more than qualified to create and administer meaningful assessments that will guide their instruction,” wrote Kim Toth Johnson.

Wildrose education critic Leela Aheer, who attended the ARA proceedings on Saturday morning, said the change will open the door to more meaningful engagement between teachers and parents. She said she hears regularly from parents who want their children to be tested.

“I think you’ll see a tremendous amount of parent engagement. Hopefully, with that engagement, the teachers will follow through at their professional responsibility level with how they feel and be able to engage with parents and find out what’s best for that classroom,” Aheer said.

“I really, really hope it works out. For me, I would insist on testing. I believe in testing but this gives parent engagement a real chance.” ❚