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Alberta government bringing back Grade 3 standardized testing

WATCH: The United Conservative government says standardized testing for Grade 3 students will provide data about where students are at but not everyone agrees. Julia Wong reports.

The Alberta government is bringing back standardized testing for Grade 3 students, though some changes won’t take effect until the 2020-21 school year or beyond.

“I would like to confirm that we will be bringing back the Grade 3 Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) in the coming years,” reads a letter sent by Deputy Education Minister Curtis Clarke and shared with Global News.

READ MORE: Alberta gets rid of Provincial Achievement Tests

No timeline has been given on when the PATs will be re-introduced. Clarke states the PATs will be developed when a decision is made on the new curriculum.

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“We have heard from parents that they want to know how their kids are doing in their studies. Albertans overwhelmingly elected our government with a mandate to reform student assessment and ensure parents can clearly identify areas of strength and weakness,” said Colin Aitchison, press secretary for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.

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“Implementing province-wide assessments will provide data to let us, and parents, know how our students are performing.”

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Alberta got rid of the PATs in 2013, replacing them with the Student Learning Assessments (SLAs). The province is encouraging the administration of SLAs until the PATs are put into place.

READ MORE: Alberta teachers to decide whether or not to administer Grade 3 SLA

The SLAs were made optional for teachers under the NDP government in 2017. The tests will continue to be optional, though at the discretion of the school board, not the teacher, in the 2019-20 school year, but the UCP government said they will be mandatory in the 2020-21 school year.

Late Thursday afternoon, Global News obtained a letter stating Alberta Education, after receiving feedback from “several school authorities,” will allow individual schools to decide whether to administer SLAs next year.

NDP MLA Lori Sigurdson said re-introducing the PATs is concerning.

“A lot of the policies the UCP are bringing in quite aggressively right away, they’re not talking with stakeholders. They’re not talking with parents or children about this issue,” she said.

“The UCP…shouldn’t be going ahead without any consultation, that’s really a concern to us.”

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Greg Jeffery, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said in a statement that teachers are against the standardized testing because they are time consuming and not useful.

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He said re-introduction of the test is a step backwards.

“We just don’t need to return to this exam. We got SLAs in a form now that are good for classroom teachers and good for kids. Let’s stick with that and not go to the backways of the past that just don’t work,” Jeffery said.

“Anything that takes away from the work our teachers are doing with kids affects the quality of the system. I think by putting these exams back in, we’re actually going to lower effectiveness of the school system here in Alberta.”

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Parents who Global News spoke with have mixed reactions to the news.

Kaylee Doherty has four children, including one who is eight-months-old and who will take the PAT in the future.

“I think it could be beneficial because at that point it lets teachers know where kids are at,” she said.

“I understand the teachers are overworked and they’re really busy as is but for the students…I think it could be very beneficial.”

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Natalie Vandeusen has one daughter who just finished Grade 3 and another who completed kindergarten.

“I prefer we didn’t have them in Grade 3. I think it’s a little young to be putting them through that much pressure,” she said.

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“My younger daughter gets easily stressed out about these situations and I feel like that’s a lot of pressure to be putting on kids that are eight, nine years old.”

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Carrie Rosa, spokesperson for Edmonton Public Schools, said the school board is not taking a stance on the tests at this time, saying EPSB wants to work with the government to see what the tests will entail.

Lori Nagy, spokesperson for Edmonton Catholic School District, also said the school board is not taking a stance, adding the district has always believed Grade 3 PATs were important and it’s pleased the exams will be re-instated.

In the letter, Clarke also states school authorities should not expect more funding to mark the SLAs.

Rosa said it is too early to say what the budget impacts may be for EPSB but said the school board will assess it next school year.

Watch below (May 22, 2017): Mark Ramsankar, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, spoke to Gord Steinke on Monday about Alberta teachers being able to decide for themselves whether to administer the Grade 3 Student Learning Assessment.

ATA president speaks about changes impacting Grade 3 teachers in Alberta
ATA president speaks about changes impacting Grade 3 teachers in Alberta