Why standardized tests are a controversial subject for Alberta schools

Click to play video: 'Alberta Matters: The pros and cons of standardized testing'
Alberta Matters: The pros and cons of standardized testing
WATCH ABOVE: Standardized testing is standard practice across Canada but the exams are a source of controversy as well. Heather Yourex-West looks at whether the tears are worth the time, stress and expense – Sep 3, 2019

Christopher Kendrick is heading into Grade 6, which means later this year, the Calgary student will write his first provincial achievement test (PAT) — a province-wide standardized test that will measure how well he’s doing in math, language arts, science and social studies.

Kendrick’s mom, Lindsay, says she believes these tests are important.

“I think it’s really important to know, as parents, where your child is, if they’re doing good in school or not.”

On its website, Alberta Education says PATs are a useful way to “determine if students are learning what they are expected to learn” and “see how well a school is performing.”

LISTEN: Teacher Michael Zwaagstra joins Danielle Smith to discuss benefits of standardized testing

“A lot of provinces and governments like the use of standardized tests because it gives them a good survey of how the system is doing relative to the domains that the test is focused on,” said Dan Laitsch, an education professor at Simon Fraser University.

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Earlier this year, Alberta’s United Conservative government announced plans to reinstate PATs for students in Grade 3.

Former premier Alison Redford’s government got rid of the Grade 3 PATs in 2013, replacing them with student learning assessments (SLAs) instead.

“The (Alberta Teachers’) Association was actually quite supportive of the cancellation of the Grade 3 PATs because those exams were really quite stressful for those students,” ATA president Jason Schilling said. 

“PAT results don’t measure creativity – they don’t measure a student’s ability to collaborate, they don’t measure critical thinking. They’re a snapshot of one moment in time.”

Not every Canadian province administers standardized tests at the elementary school level.

LISTEN: ATA president Jason Schilling joins Ryan Jespersen to discuss the importance of standardized testing

There is no provincial program for standardized testing at all in Saskatchewan, while in Manitoba, elementary school-aged students are assessed with classroom work instead of a test.

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LISTEN: Brock University’s Louis Volante joins Rob Breakenridge to discuss the many factors affecting standardized testing

Last year, a report commissioned by the government of Ontario recommended that province phase out its standardized test at the Grade 3 level as well.

“I guess we have to ask ourselves: to know how schools are doing, do we really need to have a standardized test with eight year olds?” said Elaine Simmt, an education professor at the University of Alberta.

LISTEN: Man-Wei Chu joins Calgary Today to discuss standardized testing

Simmt says governments needs to carefully weigh the costs with the benefits associated with standardized tests before deciding whether they’re a good use of resources for students so young.

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