Teachers slam UCP plan to bring back Grade 3 standardized tests

The UCP government’s plan to bring back standardized tests for Grade 3 students is facing backlash from Alberta teachers.

'These tests stress the system, they stress students, teachers, parents'

The UCP government’s plan to bring back standardized testing for Grade 3 students is facing backlash from Alberta teachers. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

The Alberta government is following through on its promise to reinstate provincial achievement tests for Grade 3 students. 

But many teachers say the standardized tests don't make sense for young kids. 

"To have this announcement now in the last week of the school year is surprising and quite disappointing," Greg Jeffery, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, said in an interview Thursday on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

The new tests will arrive "in the coming years," the deputy education minister confirmed in an email sent Monday to school superintendents.

"These tests stress the system. They stress students, teachers, parents, everyone gets quite excited about provincial achievement tests," Jeffery said. "Having eight-year-olds fill in the little bubble exams, it seems like there's a better use of classroom time." 

'The SLA was working well' 

Alison Redford's PC government axed the provincial achievement tests in 2014, putting in place Student Learning Assessments as a tool for teachers. 

"The SLA was working well as an option for teachers to use for individual students, where they wanted more information about that particular student," said Jeffery. "The high stakes piece is out because they're not reported widely, they're reported to the parents. There's data for the teacher to use." 

The president of the Alberta Teachers' Association is disappointed the UCP is bringing back provincial achievement tests for Grade 3 students. (YuetChingChan ATA)

Teachers were able to decide whether or not the SLAs would be administered and which students would take them. 

Under the plan to bring back PATs for Grade 3 students, parents are free to exempt a child from writing the exam. 

Edmonton public school board chair Trisha Estabrooks said she has heard a range of opinions from parents.

"Both parents who were saying, 'Listen, I want to know how my kid is doing. I have no sense of how my kid is doing in math or reading, let me know how my child is doing,'" said Estabrooks. "And then I also had parents who were adamantly opposed to any sort of standardized testing, not only at Grade 3 but Grade 6 and Grade 9 as well.

"I have heard that assertion that the problem becomes that teachers teach to the test instead of teaching in a more holistic way and following the lead when it comes to what the students want to learn in the classroom." 

In an emailed statement, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said the government was elected with a "clear mandate to reform student assessment, giving parents access to clear, easy to understand information about how well their children are doing. 

"Assessing progress in the critical early years is an important tool our education system can use to ensure the best possible outcomes for each and every child," said LaGrange. "Student learning assessments and newly developed provincial achievement tests will also allow all Albertans to measure progress on the new curriculum and ensure that learning outcomes are being met."

Until the new Grade 3 tests are developed, SLAs will continue to be optional for the 2019-20 school year, and will be mandatory for all school districts for the 2020-21 school year.

School districts should not expect additional financial resources dedicated to marking Grade 3 SLAs, said Curtis Clarke, deputy minister of Alberta Education.


Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist who was born in Zimbabwe and has received honours from the Canadian Church Press, the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association Canada. She is a web writer and editor of First Person columns at CBC Edmonton. She is also the digital producer of CBC's docuseries Black Life: Untold Stories, debuting on CBC Gem and CBC-TV in October. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC Edmonton's Madeleine Cummings and Nola Keeler