September 3, 2019 9:00 am
Updated: September 3, 2019 6:38 pm

Why standardized tests are a controversial subject for Alberta schools

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.

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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. 

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“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

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“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.

READ MORE: Alberta government bringing back Grade 3 standardized testing

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.

READ MORE: Alberta gets rid of Provincial Achievement Tests

“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

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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.

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

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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.

READ MORE: Ontario teachers will have to score at least 70% on math tests, according to memo

“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

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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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