Scrapping PATs a bad move
Premier Alison Redford made a campaign promise to support education during the past election, but her review and the possible elimination of Provincial Achievement Tests (PAT) at the elementary level would not be a move that supports children's education, but one that would potentially damage it.
Alberta students consistently outperform students from the rest of the country on virtually all international assessments of reading, mathematics, and science; it is no coincidence that Alberta, unlike other provinces, has standardized testing and the most rigorous education system in Canada. Why would Alberta take something that works and dismantle or erode it, instead of building on it?
When Manitoba's government abolished standardized testing, it had the support of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, but the result was to send Manitoban students, in one decade, from the top of the heap to the bottom in Canadian provinces in results for language arts and math.
Of course, testing is not all-important; itís an equally important goal to have students be engaged with their material and enjoy learning. But there is no reason that the two goals should be mutually exclusive; surely a good teacher can be creative, engage their students and instill them with a love of learning, while also helping their students achieve benchmarks, as measured by a standardized test.
As well, those teachers who are able to improve studentsí grades should be recognized for their efforts. For those of us working in the private sector, pay increases are tied to performances. And a good teacher definitely deserves recognition and extra pay, in that he or she can have an incredible impact on a child's academic performance. One major Tennessee study found that having an exceptional teacher for three years in a row could raise an average studentsí performance by 50 percentile points over average students with weak teachers.
Teachers write tests and assess students, and that's important as a measure for parents, students and teachers to see how the student is progressing, but the people who create PATs do nothing but eat, breathe and think curriculum and ways to test it in their line of work. Surely these assessments are valuable then, and provide accurate snapshots of achievement.
The argument that testing is stressful or too competitive for students isnít convincing. Competition is built into society, even in playground games and athletic feats, and one can argue competition helps children strive for their best. As for eliminating stress, we as a society have become so concerned with bending backwards to make everything less stressful, less traumatic and less competitive that we may as well end up padding our children in Styrofoam and putting them in a rubber room to prevent them from hurting themselves in any way.
We have to learn to let our children go a bit, to let them climb ridiculously high trees to try ziplining, or even - shock, horror! - to take a standardized test. If we expect and demand the best from kids, they will rise up to meet that expectation, and fulfill their deepest potential, both as students and as human beings.
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