Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Alberta teacher excuses their child from PAT

This is a guest post by an anonymous teacher in Alberta who has chosen to opt their child out of writing the Provincial Achievement Test.

by Anonymous

Not My Child

As a teacher, I have witnessed a change in education. From the technology in the classroom to the pedagogy that has been developed to implement the changes, teachers have come a long way. One thing that hasn’t changed is the need for standardized testing to be used as a tool to assess how children are doing in classes.

In Alberta, the government mandates teachers to administer a standardized exam at the Grade 3, 6, and 9 level as well as a Grade 12 Diploma exam. This year I have had the opportunity to teach a 30 level class. To say the least, the stress on me has been great to get results that are on par with the Education Plan within the school. As an adult, I am used to these pressures but as I watch the kids that I teach lose sleep over an exam, I begin to wonder the value of the exam.

This year, my daughter went into Grade 3 carefree and loving school. I still think she does, but watching her this year I can see the passion for learning regressing. This is no fault of the teacher; a gentle and kind person who is ultimately being graded herself on the students' performance. I know that the powers that be are not looking at the results, but I will say when the results come into the school, the teachers are the first to look at them and be disappointed when their students don’t do as well as they hoped, and
then asked by administration how they can get those test scores higher.

There in lies the problem, who are these standardize exams for? Are they for the kids to see if they are meeting the standards or for the administration to see if their teachers are meeting the standards?

Minister of Education David Hancock said in a debate in March of 2009 over motion 503 (the elimination of PAT exams for Grade 3s) that teachers are in the best position to assess the learning and the progress of their students in the classroom. He goes further by explaining that teachers are trained professionals and that only they know the diversity and disparity of their classroom. In saying this the Minister is acknowledging the importance of teacher and more importantly that their assessment of their students needs to be trusted by all the stakeholders in education.

When I wrote my letter to the school on Sunday night excusing my daughter from her PAT this year, I thought long and hard what I wanted to say. I was torn between angry parent or tired teacher. The parent in me wanted to talk about the stress that has been placed on me and my child as we have prepared all year to write one exam on one day. The parent wanted to say that the build up to the exam has taken away from the fun of school. The parent wanted to say we should trust the teacher and her assessments of where my child is in Grade 3. The parent in me asked why my child has to be ranked so early in her learning career.

When I came to the teacher part, I saw the same arguments. I have been working so hard to get my students ready to write two exams in June that I have forgotten all about the fun of school. I am tired and stressed at the results that will come back in September and how I will rank within my department, and I wish the stakeholders would trust me and my assessment of their children in the classroom.

I excused my daughter from writing her Grade 3 PAT this year because it was the right thing for me to do. I trust the public education system and what it does in society. We are graduating young men and women who have had to write a story from a picture prompt or an essay from a quote. Unless they are aspiring to become a writer, how many jobs do you know that ask this of their employees? Maybe that is the final word here. If we can try to justify these exams as tools to assess, why are these exams not used in real life? I would love for the public to show me a standardized exam that they have to write for their job that begins with a picture prompt or a multiple choice question in order to test their knowledge. I would hate to know that the air traffic controller guessed on his multiple-choice exam that got him into the tower.

I don’t want my child ranked, a number in the system. I want her to be free to make her own choices in life, and one of the choices I have helped her with is for her not to write a Standardized Exam in Grade 3.


  1. Great post Joe - excellent food for thought.

  2. RE: "I have been working so hard to get my students ready to write two exams in June that I have forgotten all about the fun of school."

    Us parents go through it too. My two sons are bored to tears in school waiting for the other children to catch up and when they are tuned out they miss anything important. Maybe the teaching model needs to be revisited? Maybe it's the students' attention spans?

    Probably both. Whatever the case the 19K per student per year we pay in Canada for education could be better used.

    "I would love for the public to show me a standardized exam that they have to write for their job that begins with a picture prompt or a multiple choice question in order to test their knowledge."

    Nicely put. It does seem to play a tad to the ridiculous end of the spectrum.

  3. I'm a teacher in Ontario, and my eldest daughter is in grade three next year. I've already made the decision that I'm going to opt her out of the grade three testing at the end of the year. I already know how well she's doing, as does her teacher. I already know what she reads and how well, what interests her, what she struggles with. Her teachers know this too. So the test isn't benefitting her or us directly. If it's only being used to pit schools and teachers against each other, to stress them out over a measure they cannot truly control, and to take away valuable exploratory learning in favour of lessons about how to take a multiple-choice test and how to at least try to answer every question, why would I subject my daughter to it?

    I'm going to ask her teacher next year if it would be possible for her to spend test-prep periods in the library reading, since she won't be taking the test. Hopefully she'll get the opportunity to explore more books that way and actually learn something of value.


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