The Legislative Assembly of Alberta passed resolution 503 yesterday which asks the Government of Alberta to end mandatory testing of all Grade 3 (8 year old) students in Alberta. The Government is not required to act on this motion, but must take it into consideration.
This is a welcome development. It means that the House is conscious of a need for change in the accountability regime. It will now be a test for Dave Hancock - the best Education Minister in a decade or more - to respond creatively. It's my hope that this provides a basis for him to start a process of change.
Here is my recommendation:
1. Announce quickly the intention to move away from census base testing to sampling for all Provincial achievement tests - this will meet the requirement to show Albertan's what they are getting for their money.
2. Replace Grade 3 tests with diagnostic testing at the start of Grade 3 which will help identify not just the learning challenges of these eight year old's, but also their gifts and opportunities. Lets use the process as one of talent finding and developing. Here, Dave should bear in mind the lessons of similar work on the UK on primary school testing.
3. Ask each school to develop performance indicators of what matters most to them through a rigorous school development planning cycle. That is, in addition to maths, science and native language skills, what is most important for these kids - emotional and social intelligence, critical thinking, creativity etc - and what are you going to do and what are the measures of success you will use and how will you report them? Break away from the curriculum strangle-hold on the school and give teachers a chance to teach.
4. Commit to reducing the size of Alberta Education from 700 FTE staff (plus 100 FTE contract and consulting staff) to 250 by 2012 - we don't need them.
5. Partner with the ATA on the rethinking of school based accountability.
This could make Alberta a North American leader in focusing on children and real learning, not just test results.