Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Assessment program hurts class time: union

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WINNIPEG School Division students have missed an entire year's worth of teaching time in math and language arts by the time they finish Grade 6, the division's teachers' union is charging.

The Winnipeg Teachers Association blames the division's contentious comprehensive assessment program (CAP).

Citing a recent report from the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, that placed Manitoba kids second-last in a national math test, WTA president Dave Najduch said teachers have raised alarms for years about lost teaching time in WSD classrooms.

"The problem with CAP, in general, and the new math CAP, in particular, is that many members still believe that the assessment component takes significant amounts of time away from the preparation of teaching materials and the instructional component. Even with the WSD insistence that CAP is part of regular classroom instruction, some members continue to believe that a child will have lost almost a year of instruction time from grades 1 to 6 because of the implementation of the CAP," Najduch wrote in the December WTA newsletter.

Winnipeg school board chair Rita Hildahl refused to comment Thursday.

"I'm not going to enter into a debate," Hildahl said in an interview. "That's a professional matter, not a political one."

Hildahl said the division is constantly reviewing CAP, which is done to help children learn. "It's not something done to a child, it's something done with a child," Hildahl said.

CAP is a controversial program in which teachers in elementary school spend enormous amounts of time each September and October meeting individually with students to conduct assessments of their math and literacy skills. Teacher's aides and other staff supervise the rest of the class while the one-on-one sessions are conducted.

The WTA's public concerns about CAP became so intensive in 2003 that the division threatened to fire the 16-member union executive if it went ahead with plans to publish a four-page pamphlet attacking CAP as an insert in the Winnipeg Free Press.

That led to a lengthy Manitoba Labour Board hearing; an eventual victory for the union upheld the WTA's right to freedom of speech.

Najduch said CAP has been around for a decade, and there is no evidence it has improved students' learning.

"If it has been successful at improving the teaching and learning of math in the WSD there would/should be mountains of data in the division to support this. I believe if the data does exist, it will not demonstrate a significant improvement in student learning, or we would have heard about it by now," Najduch wrote.

"The problem continues to be an almost pathological focus on the assessment component at the expense of the instructional component," he said. "How might student skills have improved in a clearly measurable way if the WSD spent the last decade focused on improving the instruction of English language arts and math rather than putting all of the time, human resources and money into development of the CAP assessment tool?"

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 9, 2011 B2

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