Monday, November 19, 2012

Moving beyond standardized testing in Alberta

This is the preamble from the Alberta Assessment Consortium's research update A New Look at Public Assurance: Imagining the Possibilities for Alberta Students.

by the Alberta Assessment Consortium

Although the conversation about educational accountability in Alberta is not new, recent events have sparked a renewed interest in the topic.
  • In March of 2009 the Alberta Legislature passed Motion 503, recommending the elimination of the Grade 3 Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) and giving consideration for alternative methods to assess student achievement at the grade three level. Although the motion was passed, it was a private member’s motion and as such, the government is not obligated to act on it.
  • In January of 2012, Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk in his 10 Point Plan for Education committed to “reviewing provincial achievement tests, first so that we can find better ways to understand how students, schools and the system are doing and then so we can use that knowledge to improve students’ success”.
  • Alison Redford, newly elected Premier of Alberta responded to a question in regard to eliminating Grade 3 and Grade 6 Provincial Achievement Tests by stating that “…we’re going to transition out of those. We want to make sure we have a system in place so that we can track progress in students, so that if there are students that are falling behind, we can identify that, but I don’t think Provincial Achievement Tests are the way forward for us, and we’ve asked Education to look at what alternative models we could put in place”.
  • Jeff Johnson, Alberta’s new Education Minister stated that “…as we slowly transform the educational system, that has a lot of implications for how you assess ... The PATs, in their current form, will not be what we are using 10 years from now, is my prediction, but there’s still an important requirement to have some form of standardized assessment across the province”.
Three years have elapsed since Motion 503 was passed. Although numerous questions have been raised in the Legislature in regard to when some action would be taken in response to the motion, former Education Minister David Hancock frequently stated that an alternative would have to be found before the tests would be eliminated. Alberta’s new Premier and Education Minister both indicate that the need for some level of public assurance remains, while acknowledging that the current model is insufficient. The vision of what that new framework might look like has yet to be articulated.

Alberta has much to gain by ensuring that our young learners acquire the requisite knowledge, skills and attitudes to ensure a solid foundation for future learning. Yet how can we know that students are ‘ready’ for grade four? Is it possible to design alternative assessments that can both support learning and at the same time, assure the public that Alberta students are receiving a high quality, world class education? It is the view of the Alberta Assessment Consortium (AAC) that it is not only possible, but highly desirable. Assessment authors and researchers from around the world agree.

Founded in 1994 as a not-for-profit organization, the AAC is dedicated to the enhancement of quality classroom assessment practices. AAC occupies a unique position among the education partners in Alberta as it is not funded by government but rather by membership. As such, AAC is able to offer an independent voice, providing informed responses to assessment topics that impact student learning. AAC contributes to assessment literacy in Alberta by developing a broad range of classroom assessment resources and professional learning materials; facilitating lateral networks among school jurisdictions and education partners; and engaging in action research and inquiry.

This discussion paper is offered as an invitation to explore possibilities for a new look at public assurance through a classroom based diagnostic assessment approach to replace the current grade three Provincial Achievement Tests. It is not intended to be prescriptive nor does it suggest that the views expressed herein represent the views of individual members of the consortium. The intent of this paper is to promote public dialogue in regard to this important topic.

The paper begins with an exploration of the notion of accountability, and then considers the limitations of existing large scale assessment practices. Credible alternative assessment measures are presented, along with a proposed implementation sequence to ensure success. Samples of these classroom based assessment measures in action will be available on the AAC website at under the Advocacy and Research tab.

As we embark on the transformation of education in Alberta, it stands to reason that changes to curriculum and pedagogy will require corresponding changes to assessment practices. In the spirit of inquiry, we invite you to explore with us some new possibilities for assuring the public that our students are receiving the very best education possible. New ideas and information will surely prompt further questions and subsequent explorations. We invite you to join the inquiry by imagining the possibilities for Alberta students.

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