Alberta NDP accuses UCP government of downplaying students’ improving test scores for political reasons

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WATCH ABOVE: The NDP is accusing the UCP of downplaying improved test scores from Alberta students for political reasons. But as Sarah Komadina reports, the UCP are countering that it's the NDP that is playing politics – Sep 28, 2019

The Alberta NDP is accusing the province’s UCP government of playing politics by downplaying improvements in student test scores that it attributes to curriculum updates it initiated before the UCP formed government.

The latest Provincial Achievement Test (PAT) results were recently published online and the NDP said the numbers show improvement in a number of areas, including math.

The official Opposition questioned why the government did not issue a news release about the scores and why the results had not been posted on Twitter accounts belonging to Education Minster Adriana LaGrange and Alberta Education.

“This is the government trying to bury the good work of students to justify its cancellation of the curriculum update our government initiated,” NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said in a statement.

“This government will continue to put politics and ideology over celebrating the hard work of students. It’s absolutely shameful.”

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READ MORE: Education minister appoints panel to review new Alberta curriculum

In a statement issued to Global News, a spokesperson for LaGrange suggested the NDP had no reason to raise concerns as the results were made public.

“The results were publicly posted and distributed to school authorities,” Colin Aitchison said.

Jason Schilling, president of Alberta Teachers’ Association, said he was not concerned with how the results were released.

“[The UCP] did it a little bit differently [than it’s been done in the past and] that’s OK,” he said. “That’s their prerogative to release the results how they want to.

“We’re just interested in making sure the results aren’t used in a way that wouldn’t be necessarily good for indicating what learning is really like in a classroom.”

Schilling said unlike in previous years, where he said governments would have face-to-face meetings with education stakeholders about the PAT results, the UCP had a discussion about the scores over the phone.

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An example of progress that the NDP pointed to was that the results indicate 21.4 per cent of students achieved “the standard of excellence on the Grade 9 Math PAT, up from 16.9 per cent the year prior.”

The NDP pointed to its decision to reintroduce a “no-calculator section” to the Grade 9 test to “ensure students had basic skills and were able to show their work.”

“Students achieving the standards of excellence on the no-calculator part of the PATs also improved to 21.9 per cent, up from 17.8 per cent,” the news release said.

“These results are a promising indicator that work was having a positive impact,” Hoffman said. “[Premier] Jason Kenney has tried to claim there’s a math crisis and that’s something he’s going to fix with an ideological rewrite of the math curriculum.

“Now, he sneakily releases these test results because they prove he has no idea what he’s talking about.”

READ MORE: Critics blast suggestion Alberta education funding be tied to performance

In his statement, Aitchison said the government welcomes “any improvement” in test scores but added that “there is much more to do to ensure Alberta’s kids receive the best education in the world.”

Schilling suggested the fighting between the NDP and UCP over how the PAT results were handled is not helpful.

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“You have two political parties that are politicizing education, and really, if we want to have the best learning opportunity for our students in the classroom, we need to stop this fighting about results [and] about when they release them and how they release them, and actually look at what are the pressure points within the education system and address those,” he said.

Schilling added that the PAT scores are just one of many indicators when looking at how much Alberta students are learning.

“These exams are really a snapshot of one moment in time and they don’t really reflect the learning that takes place over the entire school year.”

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