Test marks convoluted by Alberta Education, WCPS investigation finds

Misleading government statistics regarding school performances in provincial achievement tests (PATs) have been investigated

Misleading government statistics regarding school performances in provincial achievement tests (PATs) have been investigated and debunked by Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) district transformation leader.

Sean Lougheed presented his findings on the matter to the WCPS board of trustees on Tuesday, Oct. 21.

Lougheed explained to the trustees that when the province releases its standings for PAT results, it is not comparing “apples to apples.”

He believes in order to take an accurate reading for each student group (those who write the test completely, those who write a portion and those who do not write at all) the marks should only be compared against that of the same grouping.

However, when Alberta Education compares a school division’s PAT marks to the provincial average, all the marks are calculated in one group.

Lougheed found that with each PAT the division administered, there was a higher percentage of students among the WCPS roll who did not fully write the exam, for whatever reason, than the provincial average. This can immediately skewer results by more than 10 per cent for schools within the division.

“They’re counted in and it hurts us,” said Lougheed.

He added that the WCPS division has double the amount of students who are not fully writing the tests as compared to the provincial average.

When comparing only the marks of students who fully wrote the tests, the division-wide average sits only 0.1 per cent below the provincial average. “We’re doing well, we’re doing the same as the province,” said Lougheed.

“This year when they (PAT marks) came in, I was quite pleased, as I’m sure you are, to see that overall in Wolf Creek we’re making some very, very strong gains,” said superintendent Larry Jacobs.

However, Jacobs was concerned with the inconsistency between the division and provincial findings. “So Sean and I started a conversation; what is actually behind the marks?”

As Lougheed followed the marks, he discovered two schools within the division — which he used as case studies for his presentation — which had only Grade 3 students to write the PATs, had no data released by the government.

This strongly affected the school’s accountability survey. “Because only 30 per cent of the students in the province of Alberta wrote the Grade 3 PAT, they (Alberta Education) decided not to put that information into the pillar survey.”

Lougheed continued his investigation and found more discrepancies in the numbers.

Focusing on one specific school in the division, which was not named for the presentation, Lougheed says 66 students wrote a PAT.

“The province recorded us as 72.3 per cent . . . our actual average was 90.9,” said Lougheed, referring to students who achieved the acceptable level.

In some of the division’s smaller schools, courses are cycled, that is taught every second year, due to a lack of resources, and in government calculations they are not withdrawn but counted as a zero instead.

Lougheed felt it was important to present the information and explain that there is not a concern in the classroom to why the standings were so low.

“Teachers are working extremely hard, I know what they’re doing with kids. This did not make sense to me,” said Lougheed.

“The province of Alberta believes they want to show how every child that is at that grade level could or should do on a PAT. They do not recognize the argument that Sean has just put in front of you,” Jacobs told the trustees.

“They don’t care if students are not ready, they want a mark that represent what every child in this province should be able to do. Now, that philosophy is deeply flawed,” he added.

A new testing system is being introduced, student learning assessment (SLA), which differs from PAT in the time of year it is written as well as its timeframe. PAT is a one-day test while SLA can be written over several days.

Lougheed says with more students writing the test, provincial standings will better reflect the division’s marks.