Standards: Curriculum, Assessment, Achievement
The Achievement Testing Program is directly concerned with three different but related standards. These provincial standards are curriculum standards, assessment standards, and achievement standards.
• Curriculum Standards are the expected student learnings sequenced into grade levels. They include broad statements of knowledge, skills, and attitude expectations against which student performance is judged. These standards are established in the process of curriculum development and are found in the Program of Studies document produced for each subject.
• Assessment Standards are the criteria adopted for judging actual student achievement relative to curriculum standards. They are ultimately expressed in and applied to test scores. They are derived from answers to questions such as: what scores must a student obtain or how many questions on a given test must a student answer correctly in order for his/her performance on the test to be judged as acceptable or excellent?
• Achievement Standards are judgements that specify what percentages of students are expected to achieve an acceptable and an excellent level of achievement in relation to each course of studies; i.e., to the relevant curriculum standards. They reflect a community judgement about what is an appropriate expectation for students. It is important to point out that this judgement is not a prediction of the percentage of students who will actually achieve acceptable or excellent levels, but rather a specification of the percentage of students at a given grade or year in school who are expected to achieve the acceptable (85%) or excellent level (15%). The 85% of students expected to meet the acceptable standard includes those students who meet the standard of excellence. These standards apply to school, school authority, and provincial performance.
Local Targets and Planning
A target is an implicit part of any goal. A school’s educational goals point the directions for people’s efforts, but targets describe in specific terms what will be accomplished by a certain time. This allows people to assess whether they are heading where they intend to go, and how well they are moving toward their desired outcomes. Assessment of progress in relation to a target may also lead to the recognition that a different target would be more helpful in guiding a school’s or school authority’s efforts toward a particular goal. By identifying immediate, reachable outcomes, targets encourage teachers, students, administrators, and their community to believe that distant goals are attainable.
Viewed in this way, targets can be a valuable part of a school board’s education plan. The mission, mandate, values and beliefs, and long-range goals all provide a context for setting specific targets. Similarly, past accomplishments are helpful indicators of what specific targets may be most appropriate. This is why achievement test results, as well as results of various other local assessments, are relevant in target setting.
School authority targets for student achievement on the provincial achievement tests are a required part of a school board’s education plan. These targets provide a framework for each school to use in setting local targets. However, the setting of specific targets by each school is necessary as part of a plan of action and as a basis for assessing the effectiveness of local decisions about programs. School authority targets will be most helpful if they reflect the variations identified by the local targets set by individual schools.
Systematic interpretation of school results from provincial achievement tests will reveal where students need more help in order to continue learning successfully. This can be the beginning point for setting local targets for student performance on the tests in the next year or two. The provincial expectation that at least 85% of students will achieve the acceptable standard on each test indicates the long-term goal, but staff in each school should identify what percentage of their students can reasonably be expected to achieve the provincial standard on a particular test in a given year. An important part of this decision is agreeing on how resources and people can support the priorities that have been set locally.
Tips for Setting Local Targets
• Consider past and desired participation rates in achievement tests when setting targets for student performance on specific tests.
• Focus on a limited number of areas. For example, emphasize one or two subjects in which weaknesses in student performance are across grades. It may be reasonable to set "hold the line" targets in other areas temporarily.
• Work collaboratively across grades in a school. Students’ performance on an achievement test reflects their learning over the years. Teachers in all grades can contribute important insights and assistance in setting targets.
• Use the school reports on achievement test results to identify which aspects of a subject need attention, and use this information to plan targets.
• Emphasize what students need in order to succeed, rather than focusing on problems that keep students from achieving at the levels expected provincially.
• Expect to set different targets in different grades and subjects, depending on past results and current priorities and resources.
• Work collaboratively at the school authority level, to identify areas of common strength or weakness across different schools and to determine targets that can support all schools.
• Interpret targets for students so that they are part of the schoolwide effort to achieve school targets. Inform parents, too.
• Report to students and parents on student achievement in relation to targets.
Targets in Perspective
Provincial tests, though providing a common standard and important information about students’ learning, are only one of many indicators that should be used to evaluate the effectiveness of schools. School boards and individual schools may find it helpful to set targets related to other measures of student achievement and to areas other than student achievement. Examples of these include completion of programs, satisfaction reported by students or parents, collaboration of parents or others from the community, student involvement in the community, and other types of indicators reflecting local educational goals.
Through its targets, each school board or school, together with parents and members of the community, can highlight priorities that exist locally for a given year and can commit to achieving certain results. Insofar as target setting complements other strategies for improving student learning, targets are likely to contribute to student learning and to the overall effectiveness of schooling in the community.
Purpose of Assessment Standards
The provincial standards are the basis upon which we assess how well students have learned English Language Arts and Mathematics by the end of Grade 3, and English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies by the end of Grade 6 and Grade 9. These standards reflect the essential learnings that all Alberta students are expected to achieve. Provincial standards are useful, therefore, for assessing grades 3, 6, and 9 students in all types of school programs—public, private, and home education. By comparing actual results with provincial standards, decisions can be made about whether achievement is, in fact, "good enough."