P.E.I. to review standardized testing used in schools

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P.E.I. to review standardized testing used in schools

The P.E.I. government is preparing for a review of the province's common assessment program.

The first province-wide standardized tests were administered in 2007 in response to recommendations from the P.E.I. Task Force on Student Achievement.

Initial assessments for Grade 3 language arts and Grade 9 math have expanded to become a series of seven provincial tests Island students must write during their school career. The latest addition is a high school literacy assessment piloted this year which could become a requirement for graduation.

P.E.I.'s Education Minister Jordan Brown pointed to "across the board" improvements in math results in international assessments like PISA as evidence P.E.I.'s provincial assessments have led to improvements in the Island's education system.

"I was on the [Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce] policy committee when the assessment program started. I can remember PISA results came out and we were fairly significantly behind other provinces in the country," Brown said.

"We have made more significant progress than any other province in the country in that time."

Principals identify 'areas of improvement'

While government has issued a request for proposals seeking a consultant to perform an external review of the assessment program, Brown said the province's principals council has already been involved in a preliminary review, taking note of "different things that we might want to take a look at and where areas of improvement might be."

A government spokesperson said there were no recorded minutes from meetings where the principals council discussed how to improve common assessments. Agenda information obtained by CBC News through Freedom of Information shows the assessment program was a major topic of discussion when the council met in Stratford on Nov. 28, 2017.

There's been no shortage of public criticism of P.E.I.'s common assessments.

The P.E.I. Teachers' Federation has long maintained money and time spent on the assessments would be better utilized hiring more teachers and educational assistants to work with Island students. The budget for P.E.I.'s assessment division for 2017-18 was pegged at $1.2-million.

No resources for follow-up, says teachers' union

Current PEITF president Bethany MacLeod said one of the problems is a lack of resources dedicated to providing extra support for students experiencing difficulty.

"Just the fact that the assessments are done, and then we don't have the follow-up," she said. "We don't have the resources in place to help the students that we realized were struggling even before the assessments were taken."

If not done away with entirely, MacLeod said she'd at least like to see the frequency of assessments reduced so not all tests are administered every year.

"Even if they're issued every two to three years as a benchmark but right now it just feels like we have assessment after assessment after assessment and there's no supports in place." 

Opposition education critic Matthew MacKay said government should dedicate more resources to helping students identified through the assessments as experiencing difficulty. Otherwise, he said the assessments may as well be scrapped.

"If there's no more money to come toward the resource, and the assessments have to be taken out to put ... educators back into the classrooms, we'll certainly support that."

Too many exemptions, professor worries

UPEI education professor Tess Miller said she's concerned P.E.I. may be exempting too many students from its assessments.

She said it's her understanding students who aren't performing at grade level don't write the assessments, which she says would skew the results.

"I think we need a fair representation of all the students in Grade 6, or Grade 3, or whatever grade that we're testing, showing what their abilities are," said Miller.

Miller said there's also been a lack of consistency, clarity and transparency in how assessment results are released to the public.

According to its request for proposals, the P.E.I. government is looking for a review of the province's "overall approach to student assessments," including an evaluation of the frequency of testing and grade levels assessed, how P.E.I.'s tests equate with assessments in other provinces, and an analysis to determine whether there are any gaps in funding or human resources in the program. 

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