EDMONTON — United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney is clashing with Alberta's teachers over his party's education election promises that include a renewed emphasis on standardized testing and changes to protections for gay students.
"The priorities in this platform are misplaced and misguided," Alberta Teachers' Association president Greg Jeffery told a news conference Tuesday.
"Instead of addressing the real issues of growing class size and a lack of adequate supports for students with special needs, the United Conservative Party election platform proposes new, high-stakes testing for six-, seven- and eight-year-old children."
Kenney's plan focuses on a return to teaching the basics — especially math, reading and writing — along with changes to testing.
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He said Monday that a UCP government after the April 16 election would return to diploma exams being worth half a student's final grade, up from the current 30 per cent.
He said the UCP would bring back Grade 3 provincial achievement tests as well as math and literacy exams in Grades 1, 2, and 3, so that teachers could gauge if a student was struggling.
Jeffery said it's best to judge students on all their work rather than place unfair weight on a test that is essentially a "snapshot in time."
Kenney responded that teachers are traditionally against the tests, but parents want to know where their kids stand.
"It holds schools and teachers to account. It lets us know where there are weak points (and) it informs intervention with kids who are struggling," he said Tuesday.
UCP to pull back protections for students who join gay-straight alliances
Kenney has also said he would pull back on some protections for students who joined gay-straight alliances in schools.
Right now, schools by law must allow kids to set up the peer support groups and cannot tell parents if a child has joined.
Kenney said a UCP government would retain the right for students to set up the alliances, but teachers who felt a student's health or safety was at risk would have the option to tell parents their child had joined.
"I think that would be very rare, probably only dealing with very young kids, or kids with unique emotional and mental-health challenges."
Jeffery said teachers do not want that responsibility, because they may be pressured to tell parents for reasons that have nothing to do with health or safety. That pressure could come from school or board officials, he said.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley, when asked about Kenney's plans, said the matter has been debated and settled.
"I would urge Mr. Kenney to talk to the experts, to the families and to the kids themselves, who would tell him that GSAs and the ability to join them with your privacy respected saves lives," she said after a campaign stop in Calgary.
"The announcement Mr. Kenney made yesterday will have cruel and very hurtful consequences."
Kenney also said he is "open to" removing principals from the 45,000-member teachers association because they are essentially managers.
Jeffery said that's a small part of the job and principals are viewed, not as the boss, but as the lead teacher.