In the last couple of weeks, I’ve either read or been told that Provincial Achievement Tests (PAT’s) and some other standardized tests are barriers for teachers and systems to transform. I’ve made my beliefs about Provincial Achievement Tests well known to our administrators. I had hoped that this message was also firmly established within our staff and community but alas, assuming is never a good idea. When I hear that PAT’s cause us to teach to the test and not be creative or innovative in the classroom, well… my blood boils and my blood pressure soars!
In Alberta, individual teachers are not evaluated or ranked on PAT results. In fact, I have never heard of a teacher in my travels being terminated for low PAT results. It doesn’t happen, it is a myth! The only person that can truly be “fired” for low PAT results is me, the superintendent. And so, if it is my neck on the line, and I’ve communicated my belief on PAT’s, why do we continue to allow this mythical barrier? There is some merit that schools may be driven to push PAT results given that they are ranked by external organizations. I find this practice reprehensible because school learning environments have far more depth than just test results and most often the comparisons from school to school are very unfair. Both schools and divisions are provided an Accountability Pillar report card by the government that highlights test results as well. These color-coded reports can cause some angst when there is more red and orange than blue and green. However, I am a staunch believer that a focus on excellent teaching will lead to excellent results, no matter matter how it is measured. The research is still very clear that the number one contributor to student learning is the quality of the teacher in front of the students!
At our recent AISI School Team planning session, I spoke about measures in general and for our upcoming focus on student engagement. I truly believe that the more intellectually engaged our students are, the more student learning will occur. I’m all about student learning! We need to be able to measure where students are currently (benchmark) and where they need to get to (outcome). We need to measure improvement. We need to measure learning on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis and we need to celebrate that learning. There is no possible way that PAT’s written every three years can measure the learning we need to measure in education. We need our teachers to recognize and eliminate mythical barriers and provide them with freedom to explore opportunities.
I recognize there are real barriers in education. Our Alberta curriculum with the vast number of outcomes is certainly a barrier. However, the current work within the department on Curriculum Redesign is exciting and should result in creating increased opportunities for our students. Regardless, real barriers must not stifle our move to meeting the needs of every child. We cannot afford to stop the great work of transformation because of real or mythical barriers. Student learning has to be the constant in our classrooms, our schools and our divisions. The parameters currently established may be more restrictive than we wish but within that structure we must maximize flexibility, innovation and creativity. One of our first steps is to eliminate our fear, tolerance and acceptance of mythical barriers. Our students deserve that!