Thursday, March 4, 2010

Change within Alberta Education

Transformational change appears to be on the horizon for Alberta Education. Some of the key leaders in Alberta's Education system have shown themselves to be of the progressive nature.

The Alberta Teachers' Association has shown to be a true professional association in its most recent Real Learning First Initiative that truly advocates for a better system of education for students and teachers.

The Education Minister Dave Hancock has shown very positive signs of being a minister that 'gets it'.

And the Province as a whole has shown signs of understanding what matters most through the Inspiring Education  and Setting the Direction Initiatives.

So what's left. Well, there is a lot of work to be done. Alberta is at an educational crossroads.

An important step was taken on March 1, 2010, when Deputy Minister Keray Henke announced  changes to the organization structure of Alberta Education to reflect strategic alignment with the province's priorities.

Because of this realignment of priorities, Dr. Jim Dueck, the Assistant Deputy Minister, will pursue other opportunities. This move potentially signifies a new direction for Alberta Learning.
Dueck's history with Alberta Education at the government level began in 1998, but what you really need to know is that Dueck played a role in creating the pshycometric obsession of measuring and testing inside Alberta Learning has today. His role as Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) of System Improvement and Reporting and later ADM of Accountability and Reporting helped push this province down the path of high stakes testing and test and punish styled accountability.

The Accountability and Reporting Division played a role in encouraging the proliferation of the Learner Assessment Branch that administers Provincial Achievement Tests, which by the way, has seen its budget triple from $4 million to $12 million since the mid 1980s. Comparing this to the rather static curriculum budget of $4 million, it is clear that the Accountability and Reporting Division's focus on psychometric assessment and high-stakes accountability had significant influence in Alberta Learning.

The Accountability and Reporting Division played a role in a number of government initiatives that have proven to be, to say the least, debacles.

This included Computer Adaptive Tests. Essentially this was a massively expensive, on-line multiple choice testing program that automatically adjusts its questions to match the students' abilities. Three major issues plagued Computer Adaptive Tests. Firstly, teachers are ultimately responsible, both legally and professionally, for evaluating and reporting student progress; secondly, the current emphasis on standardized testing programs does little to address the individual needs of students and diverts precious resources away from the classroom; and thirdly relying on standardized testing programs to determine school and school-system performance misrepresents the work of teachers and schools.

A second debacle includes Grade Level Achievement which was rightfully opposed by the ATA who encouraged parents and teachers to remember that students are  Always More Than a Number. This  GLA reporting initiative and accompanying data management bureaucracy focuses solely on the collection of a single whole number which lends itself nicely to datamongers who worked in the Accountability and Reporting Division, but offer nothing of value for teachers, parents and students to actually improve.

Whether Dr. Dueck chose to exit on his own or if he was told to take a hike may be entirely inconsequential, as what matters most now is how the government deals with the elimination of the Accountability and Reporting Division. Does this signify a move towards transformational change?

There are optimists and there are cynics. I have decided to be optimistically skeptical.

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