IDEA recruits parents in fight for standardized testing

Letter sent home with students this week



The Iqaluit District Education Authority is pressing on with its fight to implement standardized, or “assessment,” testing in Iqaluit schools, this time with an information campaign aimed at parents.

By April 25, Iqaluit schoolchildren will have brought home a five-page letter from the IDEA outlining its position on the matter.

“The majority of IDEA board members support the introduction of testing in our schools because we feel that we can use the information to improve on the quality of education that our students are receiving,” the letter says.

“It is not about measuring individual students or individual teachers. It is about measuring how the school is doing relative to other schools in providing our children with a good standard of education.”

Though the letter does not explicitly ask for support, Kathy Smith, the chair of the IDEA, said she hopes it will have a strong impact.

“We hope to get a response. We hope to get people thinking,” she said in an interview this week. “We hope to get support to have testing implemented.”

In early February, members of the IDEA voted to implement standardized testing. But the motion passed narrowly, with three votes in favour, two against, and one abstention.

Two tests, math and language arts, would have been administered to Grade 3 students in the English stream, Grade 6 students who had passed through the English stream and all Grade 9 students.

As Nunavut uses a modified version of the Alberta curriculum, the Alberta department of education would have supplied and marked the tests as it does in the Northwest Territories.

“Our students are using a math curriculum up to Grade 10 that is standard for the four western provinces and the NWT. It has been used in our schools for many years. It is measurable today,” the IDEA’s letter to parents says.

“Our language arts curriculum is also Alberta-based. In our high school, our students follow the Alberta curriculum and write Alberta exams. It is measurable today….

“The testing that is done for language arts is not based on the content of what the students are writing about but is based on their writing skills.”

But in March, the group learned that Nunavut’s department of education put an end to the plans, saying the IDEA could not proceed without ministerial approval. Peter Kilabuk, the minister of education at the time, said it would be unfair to test students in the English stream only.

The government established a working group to discuss the issue and work toward creating Inuktitut testing materials, but the group met only once and the process is at a standstill.

Smith hopes things will change under the new minister and deputy minister of education.

“We haven’t had a chance to communicate directly with her, but we would hope to get support for this from the new personnel working at the department of education. If only a realization that although we aren’t equipped to do this across Nunavut and in most of Nunavut, we are able to do this now in Iqaluit,” she said.

“With the past minister we didn’t get a commitment one way or the other.”

Manitok Thompson, the new minister of education, came out in favour of standardized testing during an interview this week, though she said Iqaluit shouldn’t be singled out.

“As a teacher, I think there has to be a benchmark. Not even as a teacher, as a concerned parent,” she said.

“What is the norm for Nunavut? Maybe we haven’t figured out yet where our standards are.”

The Education Act gives DEAs the authority to evaluate schools. Though the situation may change under new legislation, the act inherited from the NWT is the one being used to operate Nunavut schools today.

“It may be that the implementation of assessment testing in the school in the foreseeable future will only happen if parents, who want to know that their children are learning the necessary basic academic skills, push the department of education,” the letter says.

And until that happens, Smith and the IDEA aren’t likely to stop pursuing it.

“I feel very strongly about it,” she said. “I just really believe that we could be doing a better job.”

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