The mother of a Grade 6 student is speaking out after finding out recently just how optional the optional province-wide achievement tests really are.
When Tracey Loewer's daughter grew increasingly anxious over the tests as her class prepared for them, Loewer — a newcomer to Alberta — started looking into the exams.
The provincial achievement tests, or PATS, are used by the province to assess schools, teachers and students.
Students in Grades 3, 6 and 9 write exams in core subjects. However the tests are not compulsory and students can opt out of writing the exams.
Since the test did not contribute to her daughter’s mark, Loewer excused her daughter from writing the test.
"We got called into the school right away," she said.
The school told Loewer missing the test would look badly on the school and she should reconsider.
"I was a little bit intimidated to say the least," she said. "We definitely felt the pressure."
When she refused to change her mind, Loewer received a note from her daughter’s teacher, a note she found somewhat threatening.
"[The principal] asked me to inform you that this will show as a 'does not meet grade level' for [your daughter] which is unfortunate as it is likely she would meet grade level expectations if she wrote them," the note said.
When Loewer continued to refuse, she and her daughter were told not speak to anyone about the tests and told to stay home altogether on test days, even though it takes only half a day to write the test.
Her daughter was disappointed.
"She's a kid who really loves school and she loves her friends and this time of year too they're doing a lot more fun things as well so, you know it's not ideal certainly. But you know it's definitely better than having her stress out about taking these tests in the first place."
Loewer doesn't want her daughter's name used, nor does she want to name what she describes as a "great" school.
Parent Michael Tryon says he was also pressured to change his mind when he let his daughter opt out of Grade 9 tests. He says he was approached by the vice-principal after he sent the school a letter.
"It seems to be sort of a common thread when I talk to people is administration wants to discourage them from withdrawing their children," Tryon said.
Kim Capstick, press secretary for Education Minister Jeff Johnson, said by email that while the province wants students to write the tests, the numbers have no bearing on how schools are treated.
"We in no way reward or punish a school or a board for results of PAT exams, and there is no connection at all to how school boards are funded," she wrote.
The Edmonton Public School Board is reminding principals that the tests are optional.