By Cole Parkinson
While other school divisions have opted out of piloting the new draft curriculum, Horizon School Division is hoping they can provide feedback and improvements.
During the board of trustees regular meeting April 26, Cardston-Siksika MLA Joseph Schow was on-hand to address several topics, including the new draft curriculum.
“I have been meeting with school staffs doing staff meetings talking about curriculum. There is so much going on in this area right now, but the rest of our regular activity continues on as we plan for the wrap up of this year, and of course for the year ahead,” said Marie Logan, board chair.
“It was just recently released, and I applaud you all for wanting to be a part of this. As a draft curriculum, it is just that — it’s a draft. It’s an opportunity to pilot something to see where the thing will or will not work,” stated Schow.
“In terms of feedback given, and it is still so new and I’m doing the rounds talking to people in the constituency, it is a pretty robust document. I see a lot of opportunity here and I’m excited about it. In terms of the feedback, it can certainly come to me and I’ll be working with the minister and her staff, and with the boards in Cardston-Siksika.”
Schow also said he would be following up with Horizon often about the curriculum over the next several months.
“There are significant concerns out there in the public, so we want to be responsive — but we also want to balance providing a level of readiness for the fall of 2022, which is the timeline for mandatory implementation. We want the best for our students and staff, and also the students of the future,” said Amber Darroch, Horizon associate superintendent of Learner Services.
“Rather than rallying and providing a reactive response, we are looking to be involved here for the long run, through the upcoming school year. We would absolutely welcome the chance to share some really thorough feedback with you, but we don’t want to make something up on the spot without engaging our staff completely, which is where we are headed this spring and into the fall.”
Schow stated he was happy Horizon was willing to give the curriculum a shot and see how it worked within their classrooms.
“I respect the approach. There are others who are outright saying ‘we aren’t looking at it, we won’t pilot it’ and that’s unfortunate because the schools who won’t pilot or look at it will have no say when it’s done because they don’t give any feedback. I think it’s a flawed method,” he added.
While still in the early stages, Darroch further explained to the board administration has been communicating with Horizon teachers about the curriculum.
There is communication with all teachers, not just Kindergarten to Grade 6, because this is getting enough interest it is affecting all of the division’s educators.
As the curriculum allows for a lot or little of integration based on what the teacher feels is best, Horizon has been leaving how much of the draft curriculum is used in the hands of their teachers.
“We’ve settled on this idea our teachers are such strong professionals and we have such strong school leadership, so decision making, in our mind, really rests on classroom teachers and at the school level to decide at what degree teachers will participate in piloting,” continued Darroch.
“We intend to take a very constructive approach to identifying ways through this process and opportunities for improvement.”
Darroch also explained they have been in constant communication with other school divisions across Alberta on the subject.
In speaking with other divisions, Horizon has been told many would not be piloting the new draft curriculum for a variety of reasons.
“Many school divisions have opted to not participate in the pilot. Citing reasons of COVID and just upheaval to their school divisions,” stated Darroch.
With the draft curriculum being circulated for the past several months, Darroch added the division office hadn’t received many calls objecting.
“We haven’t had phone calls, e-mails of grave concern. There has been very limited feedback, as far as hesitations go.
“The conversations I’ve had with staff have been positive, well-received and teachers saying they like (to have) the autonomy to choose what’s best for their classrooms,” she said.
“My sense is we may have teachers that do consider taking a piece of curriculum and working with it. Whether it’s in their classroom next year or just in planning outside of the classroom on their own time to prepare. The call has gone out for schools to let us know if anyone is opting in and over the next week we’ll see what those numbers look like for sure.”
Trustees were also on board for taking part in the pilot process.
“I hope we get a lot of teachers that want to opt-in. This is an opportunity to make the changes.
“If you don’t, you get saddled with whatever is decided,” stated Bruce Francis, vice-chair.
“The fact the government has said they will offer sub time, resources and all kinds of stuff, it seems like something to do,” added Logan.
Another question came in the form of assessment.
As some divisions will not be participating in the pilot, a question was asked about the Grade 6 Provincial Achievement Test.
“With the classroom, teachers always have and always will design classroom-based assessment. Part of being ready is looking at ways to take existing tools, projects and re-tool those for the new learner outcome. That will be one other way teachers can engage in preparing,” answered Darroch.
“From a standardized assessment point of view, we continue to ask Alberta Education to provide us clarification on if the Grade 6 PAT will be administered next spring.
Provincial Achievement Testing in Grade 6 is offered in four subjects — Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. If a student were in a classroom where the new Grade 6 Social Studies curriculum was being taught, it would really make no sense for them to write a PAT on the current curriculum.
“They would have learned completely different information if they followed the whole curriculum. We’re counting on Alberta Ed to make the right decision there.”
She also stated in the past, curriculum implementation, PAT test data is suppressed and just used internally for the first few years as a way to see how students are getting a handle on the new curriculum.