The province's education minister announced Tuesday that students won't have to write provincial standardized tests "until further notice."

Karen Casey's announcement comes in the midst of a contentious labour dispute between the province and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. Teachers have rejected two tentative deals and could walk off the job next month.

The union has said one of the main issues teachers face is working conditions. 

"Teachers are raising legitimate issues affecting their classrooms," said Casey in a news release. "I want them to know that I am listening, and want to work with them, their union and school boards in resolving those issues."

Not a move to avert strike, says Casey

Provincial standardized assessments test students at various grades on reading, writing and mathematics. Elementary school children typically write them in the fall, junior high students in the late spring.

Liette Doucet, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said Casey's announcement isn't much of a concession. She said teachers told her many of the assessments were already done for this year.

"This is a short-term solution. If we want it to be a long-term solution, it has to be negotiated. We have to get back to the bargaining table," she said. 

She said "huge issues" like the assessments, evaluations and data entry take "hours and hours" of teachers' time, but don't help students or teachers much.

Teachers tend to use their own assessments to guide their teaching, she said. She didn't know the announcement was coming, but said she took it as a good sign the government is listening.

'Managing by press conference'

Casey insisted Tuesday the announcement is not a move to avert a strike, but the province's opposition leaders said that is hard to swallow.

"Not a single Nova Scotian is going to buy that. This is all about managing by press conference. These may be good moves but they should be at the table, talking to teachers about these things," said Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie.

"This announcement today is not negotiating or bargaining. Negotiating and bargaining are the only ways that this impasse can be straightened out," said NDP Leader Gary Burrill.

'Shows what a game this is'

Baillie also said it isn't much of a concession to teachers since most provincial assessments have been completed and the next round aren't scheduled until spring.

"That shows what a game this is. They're freezing assessments that have already been concluded for this year. They're literally trying to close the barn door after the horse has escaped," he said.

Casey said the question of standardized assessments will be referred to the province's partnership on systemic working conditions to determine which should continue, whether the reporting by teachers is necessary and which assessments benefit student learning. 

The partnership on systemic working conditions will hold its first meeting on Thursday.

With files from Jean Laroche, Richard Cuthbertson