Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Testing time for the Minister of Education in Alberta

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.


Trevor Meister said...

That would be refreshing. (In point 4 about reducing size I assume 2450 was supposed to be 250 which would probably be about right if they relaxed a bit and didn't feel the need to re-create every tool and resource inside their own walled garden. There is lots of stuff out there and teachers and students need to learn how to find,filter,aggregate,reuse,remix and republish content in the wild using the tools everyone else is using. Not so sure the whole quality control/safety thing is as big an issue as it is made out to be.)

Stephen Murgatroyd said...

Sorry, I had a typo and it was 250 not 2540...corrected. Good points - thanks for commenting.

By the way, Saskatchewan has app. 50 people in it Education Ministry...versus 800 FTE's in ours...I know we're a bigger Province, but really!

Trevor Meister said...

I've noticed that we seem to spend a lot of time (which requires a lot of bodies) and $$ creating what are intended to be "perfect" resources, or perfect web tools,perfect projects so that "anybody" should be able to use them. In Sask, I get more of a feeling that edtech community more focused on "teach a person to fish", and they can sustain themselves vs. "give a person a fish", (or barrel of fish) which doesn't last as long and could create a dependency. There has been and is fabulous work being done by some alta ed groups, but sometimes seems to get caught up in the bureaucracy.

Joe Bower said...

Stephen, I couldn't agree with your statements on the removal of standardized testing more. I find it so refreshing for someone to show a deeper understanding for why standardized tests are not a valuable tool for ensuring educational accountability.

Have you read Alfie Kohn's books The Case Against Standardized Testing, The Schools Our Children Deserve and The Homework Myth? He's actually cited quite often by the ATA's Real Learning First movement.

Also, I met with two MLAs recently and they both said they would vote against this bill. Each gave their own reason. One, teachers have not provided any reason for why these standardized tests are harmful, and secondly, teachers have not provided a plan to replace the grade 3 Provincial Achievement Tests with something else.

I was quite discouraged to say the least.

Stephen Murgatroyd said...

This is the discussion I had with Dave - he needs, politically, something to replace Grade 3 testing. When I suggested that learning instead of testing was enough I got that smile you get when you know this is the wrong answer. We are actually working on this with Dave...