Edmonton teacher voices frustration after PATs cancelled, field tests halted midstream

‘I think it just undermines the whole process. It’s just kind of showing a total disregard for teachers and students as well, because at the end of the day, they were kind of stressed and upset.’

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A north Edmonton elementary school teacher is speaking out after not being notified by Alberta Education until March that this year’s Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) were cancelled.

Thomas Pinder, a Grade 6 teacher, said he and his colleagues were notified in the fall that the province would be changing the PATs due to the new Grade 6 math and English language arts and literature (ELAL) curriculums being implemented, but they were never told what those changes would be.

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Pinder said he didn’t receive any indication then that the tests would be cancelled, despite reaching out in February directly to the office of Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides.

“I got a reply from the education minister that said, ‘Everything will be released shortly and we’ll tell you then.’ Nothing. I never heard anything back,” said Pinder.

“We’re supposed to be teaching our students to do (these tests); how are we supposed to be doing that when the province won’t release any information about it?” Pinder said.

Finally, in March, PATs were cancelled and Alberta Education offered optional ELAL field testing to help teachers prepare students for the following year, he said.

Pinder signed up for the test, wanting to prepare his students in any way he could. Prior to the test day on May 14, Pinder told his students that while the scores would not be recorded with the province, they should take the test seriously and he would give them subsequent feedback.

‘My students were confused’

The field tests were divided into two parts, on par with previous years. Students are typically given a story writing component with prompt — typically a singular picture. But this year, students were given three prompts which were “completely inappropriate for a fiction story,” Pinder said.

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Postmedia obtained video recordings of the three prompts students were given, all of which were lengthy and appeared as posters already consisting of a theme. There were numerous facts depicted, headlines, and various images, including everything from food trucks to children cleaning up the river valley.

“A lot of my students were confused. The prompts were like posters of healthy eating with facts on them and lots of different pictures. Whereas we’ve been preparing for a normal story prompt which would be a picture of, like, someone swimming in the ocean, or it might be a cartoon of a family smiling in a picnic, or something like that,” Pinder said.

Even more shocking was that more than an hour in, Pinder received a directive from Alberta Education to completely stop the test.

“I think it just undermines the whole process. It’s just kind of showing a total disregard for teachers and students as well, because at the end of the day, they were kind of stressed and upset. Now we’re kind of deciding if we are gonna mark this. They spent two hours writing it,” said Pinder.

“I wanted to assess it for them because they’ve worked hard towards this. We’ve been building towards this all year, and now it’s kind of just, like, I don’t really know what to do with it.”

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Pause ‘based on feedback’

A statement from the education minister’s office said this year’s PATs were paused to give students and teachers more time to become “fully comfortable” with the new Grade 6 ELAL and math curriculums made mandatory last fall.

“This decision was based on feedback we received from teachers and education partners in the lead-up to this year’s PATs, and was communicated to school authorities in March,” the statement said. 

The minister’s office added that “technical difficulties” led to confusion when it came to the field tests.

We understand some students experienced technical difficulties while completing their ELAL Field Tests. There was a technical error within the platform, which resulted in some students receiving three versions of the field test rather than one. When this issue was brought to our attention, we worked with our digital assessment platform vendor to identify the cause and address the issue within the same day. We will continue to work with the vendor to ensure future test-takers do not experience this error.”

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify how the field test was stopped.

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