Put the theory to a test

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Winnipeg school board trustee Mike Wasyliw is thinking in the right direction, asking for a review after complaints arose that student assessments conducted in the fall are robbing too much time from classroom instruction. But Mr. Wasyliw should go further in his motion to the school board and demand the Winnipeg School Division show proof the comprehensive assessment program actually improves learning in math and language arts.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/04/2012 (3873 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg school board trustee Mike Wasyliw is thinking in the right direction, asking for a review after complaints arose that student assessments conducted in the fall are robbing too much time from classroom instruction. But Mr. Wasyliw should go further in his motion to the school board and demand the Winnipeg School Division show proof the comprehensive assessment program actually improves learning in math and language arts.

Last year, the Winnipeg Teachers Association, in its newsletter, claimed some teachers believe that, by Grade 6, students have lost the equivalent of a full year in math instruction because of the CAP. The assessment program, which aims to catch weaknesses in students’ academic performance early in the school year, was introduced for Grade 3 shortly after the provincial NDP took power in 1999. The province said early-year assessment was better than standards tests to improve learning. The WSD then took the model and expanded it to include all primary grades.

Mr. Wasyliw, like many parents, is alarmed by disconcerting indications, including Canadian and international test results, that Manitoba’s students are falling behind in math. Math professors at Winnipeg’s universities have complained Grade 12 graduates are weak in math, and that this can be linked to the skills of teachers, especially in primary grades. They are lobbying for raising the high school math requirements for students entering education faculties.

Teachers have complained loudly the CAP takes too much valuable time out of classroom instruction. Mr. Wasyliw wants the board to order an audit to test how much time is sunk into CAP. He also wants to know why students in Quebec and Ontario are faring better than Manitobans in math.

All parents deserve to know whether the Grade 3 CAP has made any difference to their kids, individually, or for Manitoba students as a whole. Tracking and comparing achievement of students, classes and schools allow people to ask if weaknesses lie with the student, the teachers or whether the schools, boards or curriculum are at the heart of a problem. After a decade of assessment, neither the province nor the WSD has shown any inclination to make public this kind of analysis, if it is in fact done. Any call for public reports of such comparisons has been dismissed out of hand.

The province publishes very limited data on its year-over-year CAP results for Grade 3. The Winnipeg School Division possesses a robust trove of data from its decade of multi-grade assessments. Mr. Wasyliw’s motion to track the time spent on CAP is useful, but parents need to know if CAP is worth the time. The only way to get that is to drag out of the data evidence of how students performed, over time. This is possible not just for math, but in language arts, which also is assessed.

Education Minister Nancy Allan should see the value in testing the NDP’s theory, which asserted more than a decade ago assessment, rather than standards tests, is a better way to improve student success in school. In the face of evidence otherwise, she should take Mr. Wasyliw’s lead and adopt, in curriculum and assessment, the best practices of provinces whose students outperform their Manitoba counterparts.

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