Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Teacher reflects on Alberta's new Student Learner Assessments

This was written by Catherine Dohn who is a grade 3 teacher in Edmonton, Alberta. Catherine tweets here and blogs here. This post was originally found here.

by Catherine Dohn

For those of you not in Alberta, you might not have heard about the new government Student Learning Assessments otherwise known as SLA’s. This is the pilot year where they rolled them out for all grade 3 students in Alberta and being that I moved to grade three this year, I was able to experience them firsthand.

Now Alberta Education went into these SLA’s with some pretty lofty goals. They were going to replace the dreaded Provincial Achievement Exams of old with something new and better. They would…..”better enabling parents and teachers to be aware of a child’s strengths or areas needing improvement. The SLAs are essentially “readiness” assessments that can be used to determine the programming needs for students for the school year, and support more personalized learning.” (Alberta Education Information Bulletin)

However, after being immersed in them for these last 2 weeks, I am now going to share what I have learned.

1. Awareness of Child’s Strengths/Areas of Improvement: well, being that I spend 5 days a week and almost 8 hours a day with my gang, I already had a pretty good idea of where they were at, both with their strengths and weaknesses. Funny enough, the first few days, I had a few tell me point blank “I am not really that good at reading, Mrs. D.” or “I don’t really like writing, it’s hard for me.” So those that were already walking in the door with challenges, both they and I knew this. The thing is that they and I spent quite a bit of time those first few weeks building up their confidence in these areas – finding strategies to help them tackle the areas they found hard. I worked hard helping them realize that while it might not be something they were not that great at, I constantly reinforced the idea that they might not be good “yet.” If they and I worked together, maybe we might find ways to help them get better so they could change that statement of “I am not good at reading” to “I am starting to find strategies to be a better reader.”

So then these SLA’s came with 4 different pieces of assessment that involved a lot of reading and a lot of writing and I saw those students who had started to see themselves in a different light, start to shut down. The multitude of questions, with these expectations of higher level thinking was something my struggling students found challenging and I could not help them. I had to say things like “try your best” and “it’s okay, I know you are trying hard” So now I am back to square one with some of them and I will have to try to again build up their confidence in themselves after feeling like failures. Some of my shy, quiet students who would get quite anxious about things actually wrote things like “SLA’s I am done with you.” “If I have to write this again, I will freak out.” And yes, this would be even though I did not make a big deal out of all this, I kept saying it was just an experiment to see how we would all do and not to worry.

The other sad thing was that my more bright students, the ones I knew had a lot to offer, even they did not get the point of doing a task multiple times and then evaluating themselves on it again and again. I heard a lot of “didn’t we do this already with the last question?” and “why do I have to do this?” So yet again, these students did not really show what they are truly capable of because even they thought “what’s the point of all this?” and did what they could to just get done.

2. An Information, Reflective Piece: so the point of all these different literacy and numeracy pieces was this going to inform and reflect my students to better guide my instruction. As well, I would be able to take these out and use them as something to talk to parents about. I really look forward to these conversations in that if I show parents some of the numeracy questions with the self reflective pieces, I am sure I will spend more time explaining what the questions were actually asking and validating the point of this type of questioning. With so many parents already questioning the “new math” they don’t understand, this is probably not going to help me much.

The reflection I might have, if I was a new teacher to grade 3, is that I better prepare my students better for this type of assessment. So instead of spending time those first few important weeks building a relationship with my student, I start practicing with 7 and 8 year olds how to self assess, how to reflect because gosh knows those skills come built in at the beginning of a school year in grade three. (yes that was a bit of sarcasm, my apologies)

3. My Frustration – my biggest frustration was not the hours of extra work for myself – inputting students onto the system so they could actually do the test, figuring out the pieces and parts to administering these the best way possible, marking and going over each assessment piece. It was not how I put the rest of the school out at times – SLA’s meant no one could use the internet because doing the digital pieces that took every bit of wifi bandwidth our school had. No one could use laptops or computer labs because they were all booked up for us. Don’t get me started on the amount of trees I killed photocopying everything needed. My biggest frustration was seeing one of my students lay his head down on his desk and cry because he just couldn’t get what the question was asking, it was seeing one of my girls go “Mrs. D. I just don’t get what to do” It was seeing some of my students take close to 2 hours to get done on the computer because of glitches, freezing, having to shut down and hope it would not make them start from the beginning.

So to the powers that be, I have the following to say about what I learned… I honestly think this could have been done so much better. I am not sure why you couldn’t trust that I am a professional, that I am able to find and use assessment pieces that will truly reflect my students’ abilities. But I guess, like my students, I have areas of improvement too….


  1. Indeed, these changes seem a little bit rushed. I doubt teachers will be able to get used to these changes so fast. Not to mention students. Kids have to endure all these new assessment methods. It is hard for some students to complete regular assignments and now they have to learn it from the scratch. I’d recommend British Essay Writer if your kid needs assistance with studies. My son used it a couple of times after he spend a month in a hospital last year. Luckily he managed to catch up. Ann

  2. Education assessments are only required under federal law for disabled and English learners. I do not believe you can set an assessment for gifted students. Your school district might do this in order to give the gifted students also some students says do my essay for me - chief papers because chief papers set high goals to reach for


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