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Q & A: SLA program promises rough start for Grade 3 teachers

August 25, 2015 Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Government needs to act on teachers’ concerns

Question: I’m a Grade 3 teacher. Will the implementation of Student Learning Assessments (SLAs) be any easier this fall?

Answer: Oh, I don’t think so. It will be a rough start to the school year for Grade 3 teachers.

There is an extremely high level of anxiety about this issue in the field, and I can certainly say that Provincial Executive Council has heard those concerns.

Teachers were heartened by the Redford government’s announcement that Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) would be scrapped and replaced with tests with more of a diagnostic focus that would be much more useful to teachers.

Initially, the Association endorsed SLAs, but the enthusiasm of members is long gone. What was delivered last fall was not the program teachers endorsed. Administration and marking also took a huge amount of time — with little support, in most instances — all in the context of a legislated framework agreement mandating efforts to reduce teacher workload by school boards and the province.

The word “betrayal” comes to mind. And it’s deeply felt. I’ve logged calls from teachers so angry that they have considered refusing to administer SLAs this fall.

At the officials’ level, we’ve spent much of the year attempting to work with department of education staff to bring the program into line with teachers’ expectations. Meetings of the SLA working group, the advisory structure for the initiative, have featured, for the most part, one-way communication. Even the evaluation of the pilot was not made available to the working group until the education minister directed his staff to release it this summer. I think it’s also fair to say that most education partners are agreed on many issues. It’s Alberta Education that is out of step with everyone else.

The 2015 Annual Representative Assembly devoted time to SLAs, too. Delegates were floored that controversial decisions were being announced by the deputy minister before the appointment by the newly elected premier of a new minister of education.

One delegate expressed her frustration that the department, during the provincial election campaign, had refused to even send observers to an Association-sponsored conference on inclusive education — a critical issue to teachers — but was able to make controversial decisions about the government’s testing program before the appointment of a new education minister.

The second administration of this pilot, now mandatory for all boards, will be seen by teachers as largely similar to last year’s debacle. There’s no question in my mind that it’s going to be a rough fall.

Speaking at the ATA’s Summer Conference, Education Minister David Eggen made very clear that he expects further conversations about the future of SLAs and that he will be listening carefully to the experts — classroom teachers. He also stated he is “wide open” to changes and that PATs will “go the way of the dodo bird.” While his words are very encouraging and very welcome, they do not mean that we will have a workable program this fall.

So, batten down the hatches. Teachers — especially Grade 3 teachers — will feel betrayed, and with good reason. Patience and goodwill have pretty much vanished. The new government — and the new education minister — will need to engage with and consult teachers and to act on their concerns, and the sooner the better. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (

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