09/05/2013 03:01 EDT | Updated 11/05/2013 05:12 EST

NDP says Saskatchewan government sending mixed messages on education programs

REGINA - The Opposition NDP says the Saskatchewan government needs to be clearer about which education programs are on hold.

Education critic Trent Wotherspoon says teachers, parents and students are getting "mixed messages."

"Taking a pause with anti-bullying initiatives, taking a pause with progress for First Nations and Metis students, that's wrong. We need to be supporting those important priorities," Wotherspoon said Thursday at the legislature.

"Taking a pause and consulting with the sector in a genuine and sincere way, that's important. But this should be ongoing and it shouldn't be a novel concept to go out and consult and listen with the sector."

Wotherspoon did say that some programs, such as standardized testing, should be shelved. The NDP asked during the spring sitting of the legislature why the province was spending $5.9 million on such tests when it said other jurisdictions were walking away from the practice. The New Democrats say the tests divert money from classrooms and teaching.

Some educators argue standardized tests often serve to further marginalize and push out students who are already vulnerable.

"The concern is that they haven't even yet been clear whether standardized testing itself has been put on hold, at least not what I've read through the media or from Twitter," said Wotherspoon.

Deputy education minister Dan Florizone told a Regina newspaper that several programs and building projects are being paused so the government can get more feedback.

Education Minister Russ Marchuk said he read the story and it "seemed fine" to him.

But Marchuk said Thursday that the anti-bullying strategy is not on hold. He insisted that the "only thing that's on pause at this point in time is curriculum deployment," with the exception of science and French.

Marchuk also said the province is moving ahead with standardized testing for students from grades 4 to 12.

"We are going to go forward with assessment. You cannot improve what you don't measure and we intend to measure."

But when pressed, Marchuk acknowledged the timing of when that testing will start is under review.

"We want to make sure that we get that right. We've said that from the get-go, so the sequencing of that will be mitigated and flushed out as we engage the sector."