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ATA calls on minister to address assessment concerns

September 23, 2014 J-C Couture, ATA News Staff

The pilot of the Grade 3 Student Learning Assessment (SLA) program slated for later this month has raised considerable concerns for teachers across the province. The SLA initiative is an effort to replace the previous provincial achievement tests with beginning-of-the-year assessments in four components: a digitally scored literacy component, a literacy performance-task component, a digitally scored numeracy component and a numeracy performance-task component. The first administration of the Grade 3 SLAs is slated to take place from Sept. 29 to Oct. 10.

At its first meeting of the school year held this week, the ATA’s Provincial Executive Council discussed widespread members’ concerns related to this new program.

While education partners, including the Association, have provided input into the broad design principles of the new SLA program, important questions remain. First and foremost is the issue of the time required to both administer and mark these assessments. While it is anticipated that administering the Grade 3 SLAs will take up four hours of instructional time, the biggest challenge will be time for teachers to grade and input student scores—estimated to be 45 minutes per student. For a typical Grade 3 class of 25 students this could involve upwards of 20 hours of teachers’ time.

After careful consideration of a number of options to address members’ concerns and the learning needs of students, Council passed a motion: “MOVED that the Association urge the minister to direct school boards that cannot provide adequate time for their grade three teachers to collaborate and to evaluate the grade three SLAs to withdraw from the pilot.”

This action by Council is intended to put the focus of lack of support for the SLA program squarely where it belongs. Since participation in the pilot was at the discretion of school authorities, adequate time and support for successfully implementing the initiative should be provided.

In its deliberations, Council further advised staff to continue to raise questions related to the SLA initiative. For example how effective will the digital delivery platform for the SLAs be for Grade 3 students? If the new SLAs are intended to support student learning while more effectively assessing literacy, numeracy and competencies, what ongoing professional learning supports and time for collaboration will be in place to assist teachers in optimizing the use of these assessments?

Longer-term issues will require considerable deliberation and public engagement. For example, once the SLAs are introduced in grades 3, 6 and 9 over the next three years, how will we ensure the data collected will not be misused for purposes for which the program was originally designed, namely to compare and rank schools?

If the pilot of the government’s new SLA program is to succeed this fall, it is imperative that the government along with school authorities provide the time, support and professional autonomy teachers need in order to make optimal use of these assessments. While supporting the general principles of the SLA program, the Association will continue its efforts to address short- and long- term concerns with the government.

Further information and updates on the Grade 3 SLA program is available at

J-C Couture is associate coordinator of research for the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

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