Take Test Results with a Grain of Salt, Says ATA President

Responding to the annual release of provincial Diploma Examination and Achievement Test Results, Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) President Frank Bruseker expressed satisfaction that Alberta students were continuing to do well on these provincial assessments. “Albertans have high standards for public education, and teachers work hard to assist students achieve these standards,” he said.

At the same time, Bruseker warned against reading too much into variations in test scores. He noted that minor variations, which may be statistically significant, are not necessarily important educationally.

Bruseker also expressed concern about the impact of the province’s extensive standardized testing regime on individual students. The way that the province’s examination program currently focuses exclusively on rigorous core academic learning does not necessarily serve the learning needs of “at risk” students, many of whom do not graduate from high school. According to Statistics Canada, Alberta has the lowest high school completion rate of any province in Canada.

Bruseker also expressed concern about the effect upon individual students of the practice of test equating. “Although the department’s intent is to increase the fairness of the examinations, the manipulation of the marks is done behind closed doors,” he said. Bruseker observed that 2,785 of the most academically accomplished students in the province, those scoring high marks on the June 2005 Physics 30 examination, had their actual exam scores reduced by three per cent. For example, a student who achieved 82 per cent on the examination would receive a reported mark of 79 per cent. Bruseker wondered what impact this practice might have on the ability of students to qualify for scholarships and to get into university. He reiterated his concern about the department’s continuing refusal to allow teachers and the public to have access to the examinations after they have been written.

“Provincial examinations and tests provide only a snapshot of achievement. They measure only six of the 20 desired learning outcomes listed under the goals of education,” Bruseker pointed out. “Yet, the continuing prosperity of Alberta depends upon students becoming lifelong learners who have the knowledge, skills and attitudes associated with creativity, critical thinking, ingenuity, imagination and citizenship. These critical skills are not measured by standardized tests.”