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Q & A: Testing demands creating stress for elementary teachers

Q & A

Question: I’m an elementary teacher. As the school year started it seemed that the first thing I had to do was give students standardized tests that had little to do with what they had learned or where they were developmentally — and I still have more tests to do. What’s going on?

Answer: I regret that you are not alone. Teachers across the province are reporting that they are being directed by their employers to administer standardized tests to students, particularly in the early elementary grades. This is in accordance with a directive from Alberta Education that has mandated an expanded testing program:

“Beginning in September 2022, school authorities will be required to administer literacy and numeracy screening assessments, selected from an approved list on New.LearnAlberta.ca. These mandatory screening assessments will be phased in at schools across the province for grades 2 and 3 students, followed by grade 1 students in January 2023. School authorities must re-assess all at-risk students again at the end of the school year to measure their progress. Results will be submitted to Alberta Education to help inform future policy and programming.”

The government requires these assessments to be completed in the first six weeks of the school year. To make matters worse, school boards are also mandating that students in elementary grades be subjected to additional testing, either as a new local initiative or as part of an ongoing program of assessment.

The result is that young children are being subjected to a veritable alphabet soup of tests including, but not limited to

  • MIPI (Math Intervention Programming Instrument) 
  • HLAT(Highest Level of Achievement Testing) 
  • GB+ (French language assessment) 
  • CAT4 (Canadian Achievement Tests) 
  • BAS (Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System) 
  • LeNS (English Letter Name-Sound assessment)
  • CC3 (Castles and Coltheart 3)

A recent pulse survey that the ATA conducted found that 79 per cent of Alberta teachers from grades 1 to 3 have seen an increase in new diagnostic testing this year. Classroom teachers, who may or may not have specific training in the administration and interpretation of such assessments, are being tasked with completing tests that take considerable amounts of time to prepare, complete, score and report upon. While some can be given in group settings, other assessments are designed to be administered to students one-on-one. All the time, energy and money devoted to this task is taken away from the meaningful instruction of students.

Sadly, though, the worst thing about this overtesting is its demoralising effect on students. Teachers have reported that the tests have diminished students’ joy and enthusiasm for school and learning at the very outset of the year. One said, “The testing has created anxiety for students; they thought they were failing because they couldn’t get through the questions.” Another teacher pointed out that “these timed tests require teachers to assess the students on material they had not yet learned, using a prescribed script.” Perhaps the most disturbing report I have heard was from a teacher who observed that a consequence of having students do a test that they were not prepared for was that she had to “allow time for crying.”

The Association is attempting to better understand the situation confronting teachers by including questions about the frequency and impact of diagnostic assessments on its recently completed Pulse Rapid Research survey. We have also engaged Prof. Richelle Marynowski of the University of Lethbridge to lead a research study that will explore the growth of diagnostic assessments across the province and their value and impact on teachers and students. The study will provide much needed insight into the government’s standardized testing regime as it affects the entire Alberta K–12 system, including its impact on student learning and work intensification. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at dennis.theobald@ata.ab.ca.

dennistheobald-2022
Dennis Theobald

ATA Executive Secretary

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