Parents Said No to the Test

Two months ago, before Alberta Education announced that the province will be phasing out grade 3, 6 and 9 Provincial Achievement Tests, I was approached by a couple of parents at my school. Initially, I wasn’t sure how to respond to their question. They wanted to know if what they had heard was true. “As parents, do we have the right”, they asked, “to excuse our children from writing provincial achievement tests.” I’ve known the answer to this question for years but quite honestly have been reluctant to openly share it with parents. The odd time a parent had asked me about “excusing their child” I’ve encouraged them not to “for the good of the school.” A great deal of emphasis has been placed on Provincial Achievement Tests as the primary measure of student and school success in our province and each time we excuse a student it negatively reflects the overall school and jurisdictional results. The idea has always been to get as many students writing as possible. I applaud our superintendent Chris Smeaton for encouraging educators to maintain a focus on learning and student engagement instead of PATs. “Excellent learning is the important thing”, he says, “then the assessments will take care of themselves.” He has blogged about Provincial Achievement Tests here and here.


What’s not really known is that parents can excuse their student from writing the tests; and it’s written right there on the Alberta Education website. The problem is that it’s like solving the Rubik’s Cube to find it, and there’s an unwritten rule that school leaders should refrain from engaging in that kind of conversation with parents. My fellow blogger Joe Bower has written about this.

So as I was standing there with these two parents contemplating an answer, this question kept racing through my mind, “Should I be concerned about my school results or should I be working with parents to determine what’s in the best educational interest of their child?” So, after what seemed like forever I answered and a lengthy and engaging conversation ensued…

Here is a short description provided by Alberta Education about the Provincial Achievement Testing Program:


(This year we had 52 grade 3 and 6 students in our English stream eligible to write provincial achievement tests. More than half of those students had been approved for some sort of accommodation – reader, scribe, and/or extra time. A great number of them were reading well below grade level and some were English Language Learners. Most of those students would be forced to take hours’ worth of standardized tests in a format mostly foreign to them throughout the school year.)

…the day after our conversation the two parents mentioned above presented me with a letter excusing their children from participating in the Provincial Achievement Testing program this year. Not only did they feel their decision was adequately informed, they also knew their children’s teachers would provide them with other forms of evidence that the curriculum would be effectively assessed as had been the case throughout the year.

The next day 3 more parents dropped off letters excusing their children from writing as well. Apparently, parents started having the achievement test discussion with one another and the word was travelling fast. By the end of the week almost half of the 52 students had been excused by their parents.

As parents approached me for advice I did what my role as school principal calls for me to do. I assisted each parent in making an informed decision for their child. I directed them to the Alberta Education website, encouraging them to review the Achievement Tests link on the Parents Page. I shared the Framework for Student Learning which outlines the future direction for education in our province and demonstrates the need for a more relevant form of assessment for today’s learners. I even encouraged them to speak with other parents who were also struggling with the decision about what to do. It was not my role to decide for them, rather to arm them with as much information as possible in making the decision for themselves (and their child). A few common questions surfaced, like “If they don’t write will it affect their mark in any way” and “If they don’t write will it affect their placement next year.” The only answer I could give was no. Another reoccurring comment was, “I never knew I had a choice.”

When all was said and done the parents said no to the test – all 52 of them. Each and every one provided me with signed consent excusing their child from writing the 2012-13 Provincial Achievement Tests.

And in place of the PATs the students experienced some amazing learning:

Genius Hour Proposal – idea borrowed from Kirsten Tschofen (@KirstenTP) and her blog post at SOMEWHERE FROM HERE

Genius Hour Animoto Clip

Categories: Community Engagement, Education Transformation, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Parents Said No to the Test

  1. Hi Greg,
    It is interesting to me to see how the process of opting out of the PATs unfolded in your school. My personal wish is that more parents would do so.
    I also was very excited to see the work your teachers did on Genius Hour. I have been doing this with my class since January and have found it to be transformational, both for my own thinking about teaching and learning, and for my students.
    I know it can be hard to keep track of all the many resources you find, so here is the link to my website Somewherefromhere where the original planning document can be found. I like the changes your teachers made, and would greatly appreciate it if I could be credited on the document, and when you share it, following the Creative Commons Share Alike Attribution. You will also find other documents I have used around planning Genius Hour on the site, and more to come. Thanks!
    Kirsten Tschofen


    • Crystal Lothian

      Hi Kirsten,
      I just wanted to be sure that you were aware that as the author of the original work that was used as a platform in our genius project proposals you indeed were given credit on our documents. In addition both my team teacher and I brought up your blog site and the genius hour wiki when discussing this with our students. We appreciate all the work you and others have done in this area of students learning and engagement. As professionals, we are well aware of CC and wanted to clear up any misunderstanding there may have been in noting original work or credit as was noted in our final copy and those given to the students.


  2. TY for bringing this to my attention, Kirsten. I was not aware that the teachers borrowed the document format from you. I have now given credit where credit is due. Thanks for all your wonderful work with Genius Hour.


  3. Rae Wyshynski

    I’m curious about the response from Alta Ed and the Fraser Institute.


    • In Alberta parents have the right to excuse their student from PATs. That’s exactly what happened here.


    • Judi Hadden

      If we care about the Fraser Institute, we will never move forward in education. We need to engage our parents so that the Fraser Institute becomes extinct.


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  6. Jen Breau

    Hello Greg,
    I have been opting out of my daughters tests for years, and I have been faced with all kinds of challenges with this. I have had teachers threaten the children that it is worth a percentage of their marks, and it was part of the curiculum. I have spoken to principals that have told me that their grade 3 and grade 6 teachers are a different type of teacher, to of course push the kids harder these years to assist with those higher marks. Homework I’m grade 3 was an average of at least 2-3 hours a night in Grade 3. Hmmm.

    I have also spoke to teachers that actually wrote and marked the exams. There are things on those exams that are not taught to all the schools. Heck, when she was in french immersion, the test scores were ridiculously low because of the inconsistency of the programming. They say one year could be really easy, and next really tough. They are evaluated each year and adjusted ad necessary. My question was always, how is this a reflection of my daughters learning. Why would she face lower marks if she was never taught the material in the first place. To say the least, I was appalled when I was told her marks would be impacted.

    I applaud the decision to phase this out. I think it is about time they start testing the teachers on their curiculum, instead of the student impacted on what they were never taught.


    Jennifer Breau


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