Edmonton

Edmonton public school board questions superintendent over falling test scores

Edmonton public school trustees questioned the superintendent Tuesday night over students' performance on provincial achievement tests and in other testing.

'It seems like I'm making excuses but the reality is our classrooms are more complex,' says Darrel Robertson

Less than half of all self-identifying Indigenous students in Grades 6 and 9 in Edmonton received passing scores on the achievement tests. (CBC)

Edmonton public school trustees questioned the superintendent Tuesday night over students' performance on provincial achievement tests, and in other testing.

In 2016-17, 70.8 per cent of Edmonton public Grade 6 students who wrote the provincial achievement test in mathematics met the acceptable standard. That was a five-year low, but slightly better than the provincial average of 69.4 per cent.

Also in 2016-17, 70.3 per cent of Edmonton public Grade 9 students who wrote the provincial math test met the acceptable standard, down from 73.0 per cent in the previous year. Provincially, 67.2 per cent of Grade 9 students met the acceptable standard on the math test.

Edmonton public students are also slipping on literacy scores. The percentage of students from Grades 1 to 9 getting a passing grade in writing decreased to 74.6 per cent last year from 79.3 per cent in 2015-2016, the district said in its annual education results report.

"It seems like I'm making excuses but the reality is our classrooms are more complex," Supt. Darrel Robertson told the board meeting.

Public school board chair Michelle Draper said the scores do not fully represent the city's schools.

'Disheartening' scores for Indigenous students

The district's education results report also shows a significant difference between the performance of Alberta's Indigenous and non-Indigenous peers.

Less than half of all self-identifying Indigenous students in Grades 6 and 9 in Edmonton received passing scores on the achievement tests.

Trustee Sherry Adams said the results for Indigenous students are "disheartening" compared to other students in the district.

Robertson acknowledged the slipping scores among Indigenous students but pointed to improving Indigenous high school graduation rates as a sign of progress.

The graduation rate of Edmonton's Indigenous students within five years of entering Grade 10 was 51 per cent in 2016-2017, still significantly lower than the 80.6 per cent of non-Indigenous students who graduated.

The report also notes that 23 per cent of all Indigenous students in the district transition to post-secondary education, compared to 61 per cent of non-Indigenous students.

"This has been a long-standing concern for the board, and we know that we need to support it," Draper said. "More work needs to be done."

Trustees also passed an update to the spring budget that saw a surplus of $61.5 million for the previous school year.

The board's operating surplus plan will earmark $6.7 million of the surplus to be put towards programs, including for Indigenous students.

To inform their policy on Indigenous programming, Robertson said the board will incorporate recommendations brought forward by a recent OECD report initiated by Alberta Education.

Robertson said a closer look at the provincial achievement test results will be presented to trustees at their next meeting on Dec. 19.

anna.desmarais@cbc.ca

@anna_desmarais