Nova Scotia

Top education official lauds Nova Scotia teachers for test scores

The battle over a new contract between the Nova Scotia government and its teachers has been a messy one, but on Tuesday the province's top education official had nothing but praise for those who work in the classroom.

Deputy minister also credits teachers for convincing department there were too many assessments

Deputy education minister Sandra McKenzie (left) appeared Tuesday before a legislature committee. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The battle over a new contract between the Nova Scotia government and its teachers has been a messy one, but on Tuesday the province's top education official had nothing but praise for those who work in the classroom.

Deputy education minister Sandra McKenzie told a legislature committee that teachers are the reason for recent test scores that saw Nova Scotia students meet the national average in reading on an international evaluation.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is conducted once every three years and tests the science, mathematics and reading skills of 15-year-old students in dozens of countries.

The results showing Nova Scotia's slight improvement in reading from 2012 to 2015 were released in December.

"If I was to going to give credit, I would give it to teachers," McKenzie told members of the human resources committee.

Nova Scotia students did, however, score below the Canadian average in math and science.

Literacy strategy

McKenzie was appearing before the committee to speak about Nova Scotia's literacy strategy, which was launched last May. It includes $3.2 million to hire teachers and other experts focussed on helping students improve their reading and writing.

McKenzie said it is too early to expect it to bear fruit. 

"In two or three years, yes we'll be hopefully seeing the gains that we anticipated," she said.

Too many assessments

McKenzie also gave teachers full marks for convincing the province it was loading them down with too many student assessments, work that often provided the department, boards or individual schools with roughly the same information.

"I think teachers were right. I think that we rolled out a lot in P-3. And across the board in terms of collection of information and we could have done it better," she said.

"We were learning as we were going and we had an opportunity through the negotiations in the collective agreement to talk about some of their frustrations."

The government reached a tentative contract with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union earlier this month. The union, however, has accused Premier Stephen McNeil of reneging on one section and teachers are back to work-to-rule job action.

A ratification vote is set for Feb. 8.

'You don't take 9 vials'

McKenzie used a medical analogy to drive home her point about too many assessments.

"When you go to the doctor to get blood work, you don't take nine vials. You take one vial and test it nine times," she said.

"What we needed to do was be able to use the information we were gathering in nine different ways as opposed to going out and gathering it nine different times."

Last November, Education Minister Karen Casey suspended further provincial assessments while her department evaluated their usefulness. That work is ongoing, according to the deputy minister.

"Do we need to improve that? Absolutely. Do we need assessment data in order to inform good practice? We also need that." 

McKenzie admitted that with no tests there will be a gap in data.

"The current suspension of assessments will cause a little bit of a blip but I think that we'll come out and be in a better place as a result of what we've had to take a look at."

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