This was written by Tracey Loewer, an Albertan and mother of five, who recently opted her grade 6 daughter out of Alberta's Provincial Achievement Tests.
by Tracy Loewer
Before I get into my recent experience with withdrawing my 6th grader from writing the Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs), here's a little background.
I am the mother of five children (ages 9-15), and we recently moved to Edmonton from a smaller community in Saskatchewan. Although I knew (and expected) that there would be quite an adjustment period for my kids, particularly since we moved after the school year was well under way, I was unprepared for the added pressure of some unknown thing called the PATs. Within the first week of school, I think I heard my kids mention it fifty times.
I will be honest in saying that I didn't take it too seriously at first. After all, moving is fraught with many challenges and it takes time to become familiar with new ways of doing things. I started to wonder about the PATs when my 6th grade began making comments like "My teacher says that I need to know 'this' or 'that' for the PATs," but I didn't really look into it until she began completely stressing out and bringing home an alarming number of booklets so she could study.
I won't go into all of my reasons for withdrawing my daughter from writing the PATs or I will run the risk of hijacking this blog with my own rant about the state of education in Alberta, high-stakes testing (for little children, no less!), and the tremendous waste of resources - I'll leave that for the experts to debate. After all, I'm a newbie to the system. Suffice it to say that upon notifying the school that my daughter would not be participating, we were both invited in for a conference with her teacher. Long story short, I didn't change my mind, and my daughter was asked (very nicely) to keep quiet so her friends wouldn't complain to their own parents about having to write the PATs. I was also asked to keep her at home for the entire day on testing days (even though they only spend part of the day writing them) - again, so her friends wouldn't suspect anything. This certainly wasn't ideal, but we agreed, simply because we were not trying to make a huge statement; we were only trying to do what was best for us.
When the day of the first PAT came, I got an email from her teacher relaying a message from the principal that my daughter would be given a mark of "not meeting grade level", and that it was a shame because she would have surely done so if she had written them. It honestly felt like a last-ditch attempt to guilt me into allowing her to write, which I did not appreciate. In truth, I was a little scared by the tone of this email (my first thought was 'Did I miss something when I was researching - oh my goodness, what have I done to her???'). While I understand that the principal is required to report on every student who doesn't write the PATs, I was definitely relieved to know that this will not have a lasting effect on her (although I do feel badly that this appears to reflect poorly on an excellent school).
In all, this has been kind of a baptism by fire for me and my family. I certainly hadn't planned to take this on when I moved here, but I am not one to keep quiet when I see something amiss, particularly when it comes to children who often do not have a voice of their own. I realize, of course, that teachers have a lot on their plate and are required to do what is mandated, and I certainly do not expect preferential treatment or anything along those lines, but if I don't speak up for my own children, then who will?
Many parents that I have spoken with are dissatisfied with the standardized testing in this province, but because it's been like this for a long time, I think that few know that it is within their power to do anything about it.
In the end, I know that I am much more interested in being a part of a solution, and I sincerely hope that the government will keep the dialogue open and that they will find more effective ways to evaluate the progress of the children. To the parents out there I would say: don't be afraid to stand up for your kids! The only way to bring about change is to speak up and let your voice be heard. I guarantee that you are not alone.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I did allow my 9th grader to write his PATs, but mainly because he wasn't incredibly stressed out about it and his school doesn't have any other formal exam to factor into his final mark. We decided to look at it as a practice for writing finals in high school. It is interesting to note that either way, I had the full support of his principal in making this choice.)