Alberta joins in the race to the bottom by ditching PATs in schools

In a giant leap backward, Alberta education minister Jeff Johnson recently announced his plans to scrap the Provincial Achievement Tests

Michael Zwaagstra

Guest Columnist

In a giant leap backward, Alberta education minister Jeff Johnson recently announced his plans to scrap the Provincial Achievement Tests (PAT) currently written by Grades 3, 6, and 9 students. They will be replaced in the near future by more “student-friendly” assessments to be written at the beginning of the year.

It isn’t difficult to see the likely outcome from similarly wrongheaded decisions. Manitoba went down the same route in 1999 and the results have not been good. Before its current government, Manitoba had a full system of standards tests administered to Grades 3, 6, 9, and 12 students, similar to what currently exists in Alberta.

Over a decade, Manitoba eliminated its Grades 3, 6, and 9 tests and replaced them with performance checklists given at the beginning of the school year.

During the same time period, Manitoba students went from the middle-of-the-pack among Canadian provinces in their math and reading skills to second last. Only Prince Edward Island students turned in worse results.

Interestingly, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island also happened to be the two provinces with the least amount of standardized testing. However, Prince Edward Island recently started implementing  standards tests for Grades 3, 6, and 9 students – leaving Manitoba as the only province without any standards tests before Grade 12. Now the Alberta government plans to follow Manitoba’s example and join it in a race to the bottom. This is a disappointing development, especially since Alberta has long been the top-performing province in the country.

To make matters worse, none of the reasons the government gives for eliminating the PATs makes much sense.

For example, Johnson claimed the current PATs are too stressful for students and need to be replaced by more “student-friendly” assessments.

However, other than anecdotal stories offered up by testing opponents, no one has been able to demonstrate exactly why the PATs are too stressful for students. Students have written these tests successfully for more than 30 years and there is no reason why they should now be considered too stressful. Apparently, the education minister thinks that writing the PATs on a single day adds to the stress of these tests. So he plans to replace them with assessments written over several days. However, there is no reason to conclude that stretching out the time over which a test is written makes it any less stressful. But it does increase the likelihood more students will miss at least part of the test if they are absent on any of the test days.

Ironically, these new tests may take up even more time than the PATs.

It has certainly been the experience of Manitoba teachers, particularly at the Grade 3 level, as Ben Levin, former deputy minister of education for Manitoba, acknowledged it in his book, Governing Education. They are therefore unlikely to accomplish the goal of freeing up more class time for instruction.

Another argument for replacing the PATs with an assessment at the beginning of the year is that the data will help teachers target their instruction to the needs of their students. This is a weak argument, since one of the main reasons teachers’ unions give for their opposition to standardized testing is that teachers already know where their students are at. In other words, teachers shouldn’t need the data from a provincial assessment to provide good instruction.

In addition, writing the PATs at the end of the school year makes perfect sense. The PATs are an objective measurement tool that, when combined with the data provided by teachers from their own assessments, give a more complete picture of overall student achievement for that year. Giving tests at the beginning of the year removes accountability since it is easy to blame poor performance on summer learning loss or on last year’s teacher(s).

Finally, since students are often most ready to learn in September, teachers will end up wasting valuable instructional time at the beginning of the school year. In contrast, virtually all teachers know that June is the worst time for students to try to learn new concepts. So if we are going to make the most efficient use of instructional time, it makes sense to have students write standardized tests at the end of the year rather than at the beginning.

Scrapping the PATs makes no sense. The Alberta government should reverse its giant leap backward and keep the PATs in their current form.

Michael Zwaagstra is a research fellow with the Frontier Centre. His column is distributed through Troy Media.

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported five additional deaths Wednesday due to COVID-19. (File photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer at 169 active cases of COVID-19

Province set to move into Stage 2 of reopening Thursday

t
How to tell if a call from ‘CRA’ is legitimate or a scam

Expert says it’s important to verify you really are dealing with the CRA before you give out any info

Grade 12 students at Wetaskiwin Composite High School took place in the annual water fight off school property on June 11, 2021. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Graduating students in Wetaskiwin throw water fight after being told it could result in suspension

Students were told their participation could result in them being barred from graduation ceremonies.

The arrest south of Winnipeg occurred before Bernier was to arrive at a protest in the city. (Twitter/Maxime Bernier)
Maxime Bernier arrested following anti-rules rallies in Manitoba: RCMP

He’s been charged with exceeding public gathering limits and violating Manitoba’s requirement to self-isolate

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for the G7 Summit, at the airport in Newquay, United Kingdom, Thursday, June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Details on Canada’s vaccine sharing plan coming Sunday, up to 100 million doses

Canada’s high commissioner to the UK says details will come after the G7 summit

Conservative MP Tom Kmiec waves to the crowd during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Newborn daughter’s death inspires MP’s bill on bereavement leave for parents

Conservative MP Tom Kmiec says a day or two off not enough for some grieving parents

Victoria’s 2020 Canada Day celebration will not happen this year. (Black Press Media file photo)
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations backs cancelling Canada Day celebration

Statement made after Victoria cancels Canada Day event as a statement of reconciliation

United Nurses of Alberta is slamming Health Minister Tyler Shandro for suggesting staff vacations are causing emergency room problems. (Black Press Media files)
Physicians were suffering burnout and then the pandemic made it worse, UBC study finds

Burnout prevalent among 68 per cent of doctors – likely a reflection of issue globally, says researcher

Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020 in Ottawa. The federal government is bringing in a new coal policy saying new or expanded thermal coal mines create unacceptable environmental impacts.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable environmental effects:’ New federal policy restricts thermal coal

Policy puts another roadblock in front of Coalspur Mines and its Alberta Vista mine expansion

Kawasaki City Institute for Public Health Director General Nobuhiko Okabe speaks during a press conference after a roundtable on COVID-19 countermeasures at Tokyo 2020 Games in Tokyo, Friday, June 11, 2021. A group of experts participated in a third roundtable on COVID-19 countermeasures proposed for audience-related infection control. (Franck Robichon/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics still undecided on fans — or no fans at all

Fans from abroad already banned from what is shaping up to be a largely made-for-television event

Most Read