It’s That Time of Year Again!

Well, it’s June and while the excitement for summer vacation continues to build for students and staff, stress typically also rises at this busy time of year.

One cause of this stress tends to be the much dreaded Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) administered to students in grades 3, 6, and 9 throughout the province of Alberta.  I recently answered the following question from a parent within the Blueberry learning community.  She asked “Will the provincial achievement tests count towards the kids grades this year?”

While I was initially surprised by this question, after reflecting on it for a minute I think I understood why she was asking.  Parkland School Division recently moved from a percentage based reporting system to a curriculum based reporting system using descriptors to evaluate student progress on the various programs of study.  While this has been a highly discussed topic throughout our division this year, this post is not intended to debate the merits of this transition.

Let me also make note that I bring to this conversation a bias in that I was fortunate enough to work in the Learner Assessment Branch within Alberta Education a few years ago and I had the opportunity to work with some of the most outstanding professionals in my career thus far.  I was able to work with teachers throughout the province in creating these PATs and gained a great respect for the professional expertise and effort that go into these exams.  They are, in my opinion, ONE valid measure of student learning and achievement.  With that being said, you will see shortly that I place a much greater emphasis on teacher assessment and judgment of student learning and achievement.

Now back to the original question:

In the previous percentage based system, Provincial Achievement Tests could count for up to 20% of a student’s final grade so for all intents and purposes the PAT’s “counted”…  Or did they?  Let’s consider a few examples:

Example 1

If a student had an 85% going into the PAT’s (this class based mark typically accounted for 80% of the grade) and achieved a 75% on the PAT (the PAT accounted for 20% of the grade), the student’s averaged final grade would be 83%.

(85 x 0.8) + (75 x 0.2)

Here’s a different situation to illustrate the same point:

Example 2

A student with a class mark of 85% who scores 50% on his/her PAT (fairly unlikely that this much of a variance would occur) would receive a 78%.

(85 x 0.8) + (50 x 0.2)

I believe that while PAT’s provide one piece of evidence towards a student’s degree of understanding some of the outcomes for the subject and grade, much like the limitations with any other individual assessment, these tests only provide one piece of the assessment picture for individual students.  The class based mark or descriptor, which reflects the assessment information and evidence gathered throughout the entire school year by the teacher is of critical importance.

Teachers take the time to evaluate students’ understanding in a variety of ways, over a  period of time using the most appropriate format for the task at hand.  For example, while a multiple choice exam is able to be quickly marked and can provide a snapshot of a student’s understanding of outcomes which may require them to “understand”, “recall”, and possibly even “synthesize” or “evaluate” information (though this would be debated by many), is it the best format to use when we are trying to determine a student’s ability to think critically?  To “create”? To collaborate?

It is this thinking which has us considering the PAT mark as one additional piece of evidence which will be used to help us determine students’ understanding of the concepts covered throughout this school year.   Teachers will absolutely be looking at individual students performance on these tests and using this to help form their professional judgment about students understanding of the programs of study.

What is also nearly overlooked in this initially straight forward question is the other purposes for the PAT’s.

As a school, teachers analyze the results of these tests to inform our practice.  We spend considerable time breaking down the tests unit by unit and sometimes even item by item to see how we can do a better job for our students.  We are looking for trends.

“Is there a particular unit or topic that our students have struggled on over the past few years?”  If so, how are we teaching this unit?  When are we teaching it?  Do we require more resources to support student learning with this topic or concept?  Are there units where we are doing a fantastic job?  Where kids consistently perform at a high level?  How are we making this happen?  What skills, practices etc. can we transfer from this area to others?Teachers are reflective practitioners.

Are there types of questions which our students struggle with?  Do our kids have a hard time with analysis?  Synthesis?  Do they excel with recall and in conceptual understanding?  How do we transfer these strengths into other areas?  We are always looking to improve our craft and the information contained within the PAT’s is one way to help us do this.

While June is a busy time of year, I am thankful for the question as it prompted me to stop for a moment and reflect on my own thoughts.  This seemingly simple question has spurred meaningful conversations in my school.

So what do you think.  Do PATs “count”?  They certainly do at Blueberry School.  What about in your school?

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About SPatras

I am a husband and father of two fantastic girls. I currently work as the Principal of Woodhaven Middle School in Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada. I am excited to be continuing my administrative career in this learning community!
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2 Responses to It’s That Time of Year Again!

  1. Dannyelle Lavallee says:

    I applaud you for placing such an emphasis on the most important role of the PAT exams. From what I have read while researching these exams, they are a test of where a group of students, at their current grade level, are performing in comparison to the other students throughout our province. Breaking down the performance of the group in order to find trends in their results is what these tests were developed for.

    For this reason, teachers should not be stressed out in the few weeks before exams. It has taken the entire year, and the years of schooling before that, to get the kids to the level they are at. Putting pressure on the students and cramming in information a few weeks before the exams will not provide adequate feedback for our schools. I believe that the students seeing the teachers stressed, feeling the pressure to perform well and just having over all anxiety about these ‘scary exams’ is actually hindering their performance. It is also, in may cases, setting our children up to have that same ‘testing anxiety’ when they reach highschool and post-secondary education. Not good.

    My wish is that the focus be placed back onto the original intent of these exams. To be used as a tool for assessing what is, and is not working, in our childrens education.

    I am grateful that you are going to make these PAT exams ‘count’, at Blueberry, in the way that they were intended for.

    • SPatras says:

      Dannyelle,

      Thank you for taking the time to read this post and share your thoughts, as well as for the feedback. You make a great point that often times we forget that the performance of students on these exams is attributed exclusively to that years teacher when the reality is that it is the entire educational team working with students that allows them to be successful on these exams.

      Have a wonderful summer.

      Shaye

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