Government says curriculum pilot will give 'strong indication' of effectiveness, despite low uptake

Fewer than one per cent of the province’s teachers are pilot testing a new draft elementary school curriculum in classrooms this fall, Alberta’s deputy minister of education says.

About 7,800 elementary students learning new K-6 material this year

MLA Sarah Hoffman is deputy leader of the Alberta NDP and education critic. (Janet French/CBC)

Fewer than one per cent of the province's teachers are pilot testing a new draft elementary school curriculum in classrooms this fall, Alberta's deputy minister of education says.

Alberta Education says about 7,800 students are involved in the pilot, which is about two per cent of K-6 students in the province's school systems.

The government's initial goal was for at least 10 per cent of students to try out the draft curriculum before it becomes mandatory.

The Opposition NDP say the sample size is too small and too selective to properly validate the proposed new material.

"If I was teaching science and this was somebody's science fair experiment, I'd say, 'You don't have a valid sample,'" NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said Tuesday.

The number and variety of students testing the proposed K-6 curriculum is too limited and fails to represent the diversity of Alberta students, Hoffman said.

No francophone school board would agree to test the curriculum, which has been panned by education experts as developmentally inappropriate, Eurocentric, and unsupported by current research.

At an all-party legislative committee meeting on Tuesday, Opposition MLAs grilled departmental officials about the curriculum validation process and government's management of the COVID-19 pandemic in schools.

Deputy education minister Andre Tremblay would not provide a percentage of Alberta students that needed to participate in pilot testing to consider the results valid.

"In terms of statistical relevance, the fact that we do have over 360 teachers piloting the curriculum across the system with all grades and all subjects will give us a strong indication of the effectiveness of the curriculum in the classroom," Tremblay said.

When NDP MLA Marie Renaud pressed him on whether it was a large enough sample to give the government the feedback they needed in light of widespread public opposition, he deflected her questions.

Schools not disclosed

Later, Hoffman told reporters the United Conservative Party government considers the curriculum a "political prop," and is disinterested in assembling meaningful feedback from the public, educators and students.

"What we do know is that it is a very small number of students in any public, Catholic or francophone school who are being exposed to this really harmful curriculum," she said. "That of course is a relief to many parents and educators who have rightfully discredited this horrible curriculum."

The education minister's office has refused to disclose which schools or school divisions are piloting the curriculum, and what subjects and grades.

In September, Nicole Sparrow, press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said she wouldn't release that information "to ensure the personal information of students and staff is protected."

On Tuesday, LaGrange declined an interview request. Sparrow did not answer a written question about whether any public schools are pilot testing all subjects and grades.

Earlier this year, 56 of 61 Alberta school boards that use the Alberta curriculum refused to participate in the pilot.

The Alberta Teachers' Association and Edmonton public school board have been pushing the government to delay the curriculum's implementation. It is supposed to become mandatory for elementary schools in fall 2022.

Sparrow said classroom piloting is "only one example" of how the government is collecting feedback on the draft curriculum.

An online public survey is open until February. The government was also planning to hold in-person town halls this fall, but postponed them when the pandemic's fourth wave hit.

Alberta Education also gave $1 million in grants to organizations like the Alberta School Boards Association, superintendent groups and Indigenous organizations to discuss the proposed curriculum and collect feedback.

Each teacher piloting the draft receives $1,500 from the government for instructional materials and supplies.


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.