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Antigonish teacher says he's pleased initial classroom recommendations being implemented

An Antigonish Education Centre teacher taking part in the province's Council to Improve Classroom Conditions says not all improvements require money.

Sean Barker and the rest of the council released their 18 initial recommendations in March.

Education minister Karen Casey announced that immediate action will be taken on eight of them, including a reduction in the number of assessments and a five-year moratorium on new assessments, as well as a reduction in teachers' required postings to PowerSchool, an online portal.

Casey says the other 10 recommendations are in progress.

Barker tells The Hawk that the immediate changes are cheap and easy.

"Teachers have been saying that there are so many changes that can happen to the school system that aren't going to cost anything," he says. "They're not going to cost the Department of Education or school boards anything, so those are some of the quick fixes that we can look at really quickly, and we can make those recommendations."

Barker and the rest of the council have $20 million over two years to address classroom issues.

He says council members are waiting on school board officials to bring back information on support for teachers in developing individual program plans (IPPs) for students.

The council is to submit an initial report by April 28; that document will outline their initial recommendations, as well as their recommendations moving forward.

Barker says his group will gather more information in the months ahead.

"We'll keep digging into issues, we'll keep asking for information, we'll keep asking for feedback from teachers and school boards and (the) Department of Education," he says, "and we'll just keep tackling issues as best we can and see what we can do to help improve conditions."

Barker says some teachers had expressed concerns regarding provincial and school board-based assessments.

The costs associated with creating and publishing the assessments, as well the class time required to complete them, were among the drawbacks cited.

Barker says some teachers also worry about the assessments' effects on students.

"There are concerns that teachers have around the level of anxiety that students feel in writing these tests that are," he says, "especially in younger grades, that are very different than what they do on a day-to-day basis."

Barker says the PowerSchool issues centred largely around the grading application, Gradebook; he said that the grades posted online may not be an accurate representation of the students' grades, and so some teachers deal with frequent emails and phone calls on the subject.

The hope is that reduced postings on Gradebook will eliminate some of that tension, he says.

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