CASS commentary on curriculum redesign and Alberta’s math curriculum

My name is Larry Jacobs and I am proud to serve as the President of the College of Alberta Superintendents (CASS)


CASS President

My name is Larry Jacobs and I am proud to serve as the President of the College of Alberta Superintendents (CASS) for 2013/14. CASS represents the system education leaders (Superintendents, Directors) for public, separate, Francophone and charter school jurisdictions in Alberta.

I appreciate the opportunity to comment on a topic in education that is being discussed in our province; curriculum redesign and specifically the Alberta math curriculum. We are fortunate in Alberta to have an education system which ranks among the top in the world. It is common for officials from around the world to visit Alberta to learn about our K-12 system. With that in mind, CASS understands that to rest on our laurels of what we have achieved in the past will not serve our students of today and the future.

One specific example that demonstrates the need to consider change has to do with the Alberta math curriculum which is generating much conversation in recent weeks. It is important to understand that many of the jurisdictions which scored above Alberta in the 2012 international math assessments implemented changes to their math curriculum ten or more years ago; the same changes that Alberta more recently has implemented within the current curriculum.

It is also important to understand that the changes taking place in education in Alberta are a direct result of the unprecedented public input during the Inspiring Education in-person and on-line consultations with parents, students, educators and community members in 2008 and 2009. Of tremendous significance is that 63% of participants in the consultations indicated that Alberta’s education system required informed transformation while an additional 28% felt that the education system in our province required a complete overhaul. Less than one per-cent of the participants felt Alberta’s education system required no change moving forward.

While we must consider change in order to maintain our status as one of the top education systems in the world, I want to acknowledge that the successes we have realized in education in our province are the result of the commitment by generations of students striving to excel and who are supported by their parents, their dedicated teachers and principals, and by every other person in the school jurisdictions and community that contributes to the growth and development of each child. In January of this year CASS hosted a delegation of educators from across the United States and they continuously commented on the collaborative nature of all partners in education in Alberta.

I doubt many would disagree that many aspects of our world, including how people learn, have changed and will continue to change dramatically in the years ahead. To address these changes it is essential that Albert’s curriculum, often cited as a cornerstone of our strong education system, must undergo continuous review and revision in order to serve students of today and tomorrow. CASS supports the curriculum redesign process being undertaken by Alberta Education. Curriculum development has always been a collaboration involving Alberta Education, school jurisdictions and Alberta’s outstanding teachers and has been based on informed, researched practice.

Curriculum redesign will enable school jurisdictions and teachers to be involved at the outset of what will be a more timely review and development cycle to ensure future curriculum is engaging, relevant and inspiring for students, who should be and must be the centre of what happens in our schools. Most importantly, curriculum redesign will ensure equity of opportunity for every single child in Alberta, a key pillar of the Inspiring Education framework that is guiding change in education in our province.

One component of Alberta’s curriculum, math, has been the subject of much commentary recently following the release of the results of the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is a world-wide assessment of 15 year old students conducted every three years. While the 2012 PISA math results do show that there has been a slight decline in achievement by Alberta students (approximately 2.5% over twelve years), I offer the following for consideration:

  1. Alberta has a higher percentage of students complete the PISA assessment than most if not all jurisdictions;
  2. Alberta ensures that students of all academic levels complete the PISA assessment; more so than many other jurisdictions;
  3. the 2012 results show Alberta students performed well above average in math as compared to other jurisdictions;
  4. PISA categorizes six level of math skills, and 96% of Alberta students reached or surpassed the first level which measures basic math skills;
  5. only 4.5% of Alberta’s students achieved level six of the PISA category, which measures advanced mathematical thinking;
  6. the current Alberta math curriculum does not ‘abandon’ the basic skills of math but does also address how students can better apply basic concepts to complex situations;
  7. as mentioned previously, many of the jurisdictions which scored above Alberta in the 2012 PISA math assessment implemented changes to their math curriculum ten or more years ago; the same changes that Alberta has implemented within the current curriculum;
  8. the students who wrote the 2012 PISA assessment studied math under the previous curriculum;
  9. some of the jurisdictions whose students scored above Alberta in math see students receive tutoring in math for two hours per week and also see students doing math homework for 14 hours per week. We must ask ourselves, do we want this for our children?

To conclude, I repeat that CASS is supportive of the curriculum redesign that is taking place in Alberta. To borrow the words of Ken Chapman who recently spoke at a CASS event, all education partners in Alberta are working together so that parents can be assured their children, who are our students, can not only be the best IN the world, but be prepared to be the best FOR the world.

Dr. Larry Jacobs is the Chief Superintendent for Wolf Creek Public Schools and is serving as CASS President for 2013/14.


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