I had a very cool conversation the other day with Alberta's Minister of Education, Dave Hancock. I have a lot of respect for Dave. I think he's an Education Minister that gets "it". His tireless work on Inspiring Action is showing the province and the world that Alberta takes progressive education seriously. For more on how on this, the Inspiring Action: A Discussion Paper is an excellent read.
Despite my accolades for Minister Hancock, I have to admit that I was disheartened to hear him say to me that "Provincial Achievement Tests are not high stakes tests." This is consistent with what he has written on his blog:
I am well aware of suggestions that Alberta's testing programs are "high stakes tests" that place undue stress on students. In the case of Grade 3, 6 and 9 Provincial Achievement Tests, these assertions are simply untrue. Those tests do not drive curriculum (as with the diploma exams, assessments are constructed after the curriculum has been prepared), and they have no impact on students' progress or teachers' pay or promotion. They exist solely to provide to teachers, parents, principals, superintendents and Alberta Education information that can be used to formulate improvement strategies.
It is a matter of concern if, as a result of outcomes on achievement tests or diploma exams, superintendents put pressure on principals who then pressure teachers to improve test results by inappropriate means. There is, however, nothing wrong with a superintendent or principal recognizing jurisdiction or school-wide problems and endeavouring to effect strategies or supports which address the problem. I am very interested in hearing from teachers and principals who have been pressured to improve test results by inappropriate means, but while I have heard a lot of second hand stories, no one has yet come forward to describe a personal experience of this nature. (Please contact me if this has happened to you!)
Minister Hancock and I talked at length about this, and I am very pleased to say he was very open to hearing what I had to say. I tried to make two points:
Firstly, I challenged Minister Hancock to speak directly to grade 3, 6 and 9 teachers, students and parents and ask them if they felt like Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) are high stakes. I assured him that an overwhelming majority of people would say that PATs are indeed high stakes and high pressure exams. The high stakes for teachers is evident from the Alberta Teachers' Association member survey data which shows that approximately one-third of teachers have either been discouraged from teaching grade 3, 6 or 9 or have opted out. And for the students, many schools through out Alberta count the PAT as a part of the students final grade - which serves to further heighten the PATs stakes.
Secondly, I explained to Minister Hancock that schools' guidance councilors and Alberta's mental health professionals experience more demand from students for their support and services during Provincial Achievement Test season. Unfortunately, my conversation with the Minister had to come to an end, but he assured me that he wanted to hear more about this.
And so this brings me to the purpose of my post. I wish to ask Alberta teachers, parents and students to leave a comment on this post that answers the question:
Are Provincial Achievement Tests in Alberta high stakes exams?