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Alberta student performance results continue to rise

The province says students in Alberta’s schools are increasingly demonstrating excellence in provincial achievement tests and diploma exams.

In a news release, the province says there’s been an increase in the percentage of students attaining a ‘standard of excellence’ on Grade 3, 6, and 9 provincial achievement tests (PATs).

The overall percentage of students who attained a ‘standard of excellence’ rose to 20.2 per cent from 19.5 per cent in the previous year.

The Ministry of Education defines “excellence” as demonstrating a mastery of the core subject material. “Acceptable” refers to students who demonstrate an understanding of the subject material.

The percentage of students who met the ‘acceptable standard’ also rose slightly to 75.5 per cent from 75.2 per cent.

“Ensuring our elementary and junior high students are developing a strong educational foundation in their early academic years is absolutely vital,” said Education Minister Jeff Johnson.

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“These results indicate that students in Alberta’s schools are acquiring the skills needed to eventually make the successful transition into higher levels of learning, including high school and beyond.”

Provincial officials say higher participation rates in Grade 12 diploma exams show that more high school students are choosing to take science courses, with enrolments in Chemistry 30 and Biology 30 now comparable to enrolments in Pure Mathematics 30.

The results also show improved rates of excellence and acceptable standards in English 30-1 exams.

“The improvements in critical reading and writing highlight one of our ongoing areas of focus,” said Johnson. “We’re also encouraged to see more students pursuing an interest in science, which is one of the cornerstones of the knowledge-based world in which they will live and work.”

Provincial standardized tests are an evaluation method used by Alberta Education, school boards, superintendents, principals and teachers. They are used to assess how well students are meeting provincial standards while identifying strengths or areas for improvement in local programs.

Provincial assessments can take the form of Diploma Examinations for Grade 12 students and Achievement tests, which test all children in the core subjects in Grade 3, 6, and 9.

The Alberta government is currently reviewing the provincial curriculum. This review will also impact provincial assessment.

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Provincial achievement tests have been the subject of controversy in the past. During last year’s Tory leadership race, Premier Alison Redford talked about changing the direction of education policy in Alberta; possibly eliminating standardized testing in elementary schools.

“It’s still something that we’re absolutely still looking at,” said Kim Capstick with Alberta Education, Tuesday.

“Right now, we’re looking at assessment alternatives for the lower grades,” she adds. Still, the province doesn’t want to eliminate one form of student assessment before having an alternative method in place.

Alberta teachers – and the association that represents them – have long opposed this traditional method of testing, saying it’s outdated and inappropriate for young children.

However, several experts in the field argue eliminating these provincial tests would be a mistake, and a disservice to young students.

“Assessment is the most contested issue in the educational world,” said Jim Dueck, in an interview with the Edmonton Journal.

Dueck is an educational consultant, and retired assistant deputy minister of Alberta Education.

“It starts to move into the area of accountability, and whenever people have to have their performance measured… educators in particular will rebel against that immediately. No one wants to be held accountable for student learning.”

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Dueck is hoping Redford will beef up provincial student assessment. He says standardized provincial tests hold teachers and schools accountable. He feels often, report cards cannot be trusted because grades can be inflated.

Provincial tests, he argues, are a more standardized, transparent gage of students’ knowledge, understanding, and how teachers and schools are educating their students.

According to the Alberta Teachers’ Association, Alberta has been Canada’s highest-performing province and the highest-performing English and French-speaking jurisdiction in the world on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests of student achievement.

Provincial trends are available online at education.alberta.ca by clicking on Provincial Testing.

 With files from the Edmonton Journal

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