The Albertan experience: School operation and re-assessment
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 No number 4, 3 June 2022, page no. 25
In 2019, the Queensland Teachers’ Union, together with the Alberta Teachers’ Association, embarked on a program of professional learning and cooperation and assistance. The program commenced with several principals, system leaders and union officers from Alberta visiting and work-shadowing with our schools, regions and QTU senior officers.
For this year’s return visit, the QTU delegation was hosted by Notre Dame High, the largest and one of the highest achieving schools in the Calgary District.
In Alberta, the provincial government administers both the public and Catholic school districts, through locally elected boards of trustees. Parents can send their children to the local public or Catholic school (both options are fee free). The Calgary Catholic School District has 115 schools, split into elementary (K-6), junior high (7-9) and high (10-12) schools, with some regional K-9 schools. The district’s budget, and therefore those of schools, are set by the province. The district office is well resourced in terms of support staff; you could describe them as the equivalent to our district structure in the late 90s that included the old school support centres.
Notre Dame High School was our first school experience in Alberta. The high-achieving and locally well-regarded school of 1,850 year 10 to 12 students is in an aspirational, middle class suburb with an increasing population of migrants. The leadership team consists of an experienced principal and four vice-principals supported by four school counsellors and 12 coordinating teachers (heads of department).
The rostered school day commences at 8:15am for teachers, who are assigned tutorial duty for students who opt to attend additional classes for remediation work. The school day commences at 9am with regular lessons, including a home room (pastoral care focus) to start the day. Currently the school is running a two-period day of 140 minutes each lesson, with a 30-minute lunch break in-between, a legacy of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
With such long lessons, the heads of department (HODs) facilitated the transition from topic-based learning to problem-based or concept-based units of work. These are generally delivered through structured inquiry, however up-front learning and direct teaching still have a place.
After extensive consultation with the community, Notre Dame decided to retain the two-period day. Teachers receive one spare a week for six months. Notre Dame is implementing (and pioneering) a “re-assessment for learning” program, which enables students, after self-initiated remediation, to demonstrate their improved skills and abilities and alter their summative assessment marks (including year 12 results). This concept emphasises the demonstration of improved learning as a result of re-learning, rather than the re-sitting of exams. There are a few issues to be overcome around workload and personal philosophy about summative assessment issues, however the concept is broadly supported by the staff. If you consider the educational philosophy that “summative assessment is only a mechanism to deploy limited resources (university entrance)”, it makes sense to examine how we implement summative assessment.
Finally, it was interesting to hear from the career and technology studies (think IDT) coordinating teacher that parents and students still consider vocational education a fall-back option for students who don’t make it to university. Given this educational belief, the CTS rooms were some of the best equipped that the delegation had ever seen.
In the next issue, we outline the industrial landscape that schools and unions in Alberta and neighbouring provinces are navigating at present, with provincial governments removing principals from unions, among other legislative changes.