Province moves ahead with 8 recommendations to improve classroom conditions

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Nova Scotia's education department says it's moving ahead immediately with eight recommendations to improve classroom conditions made by a special council struck earlier this month.

Education Minister Karen Casey said the classroom conditions council has provided 18 recommendations to improve classroom conditions. Among the changes that will take effect immediately:

- Eliminating three provincially mandated assessments and exams

- Placing a five-year moratorium on new school board and provincially initiated assessments

- Maintaining suspension of Grade 10 exams

- Maintaining suspension of one provincially mandated assessment for Grade 8 students

Casey said the province needs a reset on mandated assessments to determine whether some are redundant.

"It became obvious that there may have been an overlap," she said. "We may have been seeking the same data in more than one way."

Eliminating the assessments means that, at least temporarily, there will be less opportunity for comparison of Nova Scotian students to other students nationally and internationally. But Casey said it's a suspension "until we have determined which are the most crucial assessments, which ones do we need, and when and how are these going to be administered."

Less PowerSchool

The province will also issue three directives dealing with PowerSchool, the system that manages student information, effective April 3. The directives include:

- Permitting teachers to publish marks less frequently, at one set time each month at a minimum.

- Teachers no longer have to assign a mark to every outcome in PowerSchool. But marks must still be recorded in some form to support teaching and communications with parents.

- High school teachers no longer have to enter attendance into PowerSchool until the end of the day.

One other recommendation deals with sharing a summary of council discussions. The other 10 recommendations are "in progress," said Casey.

She said these first changes are in response to teacher complaints about the time it takes to do things that aren't directly related to students

"If we can clear some of that away and free up some of that teacher time so it can be spent directly with instruction to students, that's the goal here," she said. "And we believe that these changes will give them more time."

Union reacts

On Thursday, Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Liette Doucet praised the suspension of some provincial assessments, saying the move gives teachers more freedom to use their professional judgement to assess students.

Doucet said the less time teachers spend on data entry, the more time they have to focus on students.

"The recommendations around PowerSchool and TIENET are a good start," she said in a statement. 

However Doucet also criticized the province for being too slow to make big reforms. 

"Major improvements like reduced class sizes and increased support for students with special needs are badly needed and have not been addressed," she said. 

Casey counters that getting eight changes in two weeks from a council that will be working for two years is speedy and effective.

"It's very complex," she said of the teachers' concerns. "The decisions can't be made without a lot of study of what are we doing, why are we doing it, how can we do it differently." 

Council mandate

The council is one of the elements included in the contract the Liberal government voted to impose on teachers in February. 

The council is intended to address concerns teachers have repeatedly voiced about the workplace. It includes nine teachers, a guidance counsellor, a student, a parent, the province's deputy education minister and the executive director of the teachers union.

It has $20 million spread over two years to do that work, with a priority focus on: data collection and reporting; assessment and evaluation; student attendance policy; technology such as PowerSchool; complex classrooms; scope of practice; class sizes at all grade levels; and student discipline policy.