Skip to content
Aurora Institute

Reflections on Education Ministry Meetings in Alberta, Canada – Positive Insights across North America and Lessons for the USA

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

In the New Year, I was able to travel to Edmonton – the capital of Alberta, Canada – to visit schools and meet with educators, education leaders and public officials as part of a delegation from the United States.

Focus on Values of Equity and Inclusion

Canada has the smallest achievement gap (the achievement gap between sub-groups of students) of OECD countries. All of the high performing countries on PISA have a very strong sense of shared values, and this was very evident across the meetings and school visits in Edmonton. Alberta’s values are clearly articulated here in a visionary document titled Inspiring Education and repeated at the school and classroom-level by educators from across many fields of study and levels of teaching and administration during site visits.

Alberta school leaders described a changing competency framework and the digital revolution. They described curriculum redesign and moving from very structured curriculum toward achievement of competencies. They discussed the need to:

  • Change how you want young people to learn
  • Change how you measure and benchmark successful outcomes
  • Understand the process for the journey takes a while (over years and requires a growth mindset and continuous improvement framework with flexibility)
Accountability in Alberta —16 Pillars of Accountability

Albert School Superintendents and administrators, like Paulette Hanna, explained that they wished to have accountability that would provide them with useful information on continuous improvement for building capacity at the classroom level and school level. Thus, the information would allow them to support educators and students in improving instructional models at the classroom level throughout the year – focused on student learning, quality and engagement.

The public official noted that if the measures were the correct ones for student learning, then the data would be very helpful for policy makers and accountability purposes, too.

Note reflecting on this: a later discussion of US delegation members noted that our NCLB accountability system (by design) has as its primary accountability instrument placing schools on lists of “persistently low achieving schools” using a rather blunt single instrument of a end-of-year summative testing regime, rather than driving continuous improvement throughout the year.

Scholar, and our Canadian host, Michael Fullan described: “One of the biggest barriers to improvement in school systems is the presence of punitive accountability… If we are able to produce strong ‘internal accountability’ this, in turn, produces strong public accountability…”

Paraphrasing the remaining conversation: “We must ask ourselves if the system by design awakens people’s inherent desire for creative innovations and solutions with transparency for improving student learning at the instructional level (classroom teachers/students), or operates on driving fear and creates absence of trust.”

What Does Alberta’s 16 Pillar Accountability Frame Look Like?

Answer: Data for Continuous Improvement

I attempted illustrating a conceptual 16 metric accountability system based on my notes from conversations.

Note: Imagine data on each check mark showing continuous improvement based on student learning data and successes on multiple measures throughout the year. For the real data, the High School Flexibility Enhancement Pilot Project: A Summary Report (2013), page 14 shows the metrics and detail:

Illustrating Alberta’s Concept of 16 Pillars of Accountability for High Schools: Multiple Measures at Multiple Points of the Year

Student surveys were an important part of the balanced scorecard of 16 different accountability measures. The intellectual engagement measure is taken from the Tell Them From Me Survey, a student survey given to students at each of the participating schools twice a year.

My question: Could we add proficiency on standards/competencies demonstrated, individual student growth, productivity rates (amount of learning per unit of time) and credits earned (as defined by competencies)?

High School Flexibility and Redesign

Alberta, Canada education leaders showed evidence on the focus on learning and discussed in our conversations: clear learning goals, success criteria, critical thinking skills, quality of teachers, limiting the number of colleges of education and hold to high standards, develop capacity of people in the profession, asking for evidence of success (outcomes metrics, see below), partnering with Ministry of Education. They believe building capacity and accountability for continuous improvement comes from the bottom up with trusted relationships to work together on shared values at all levels.

Alberta, Canada – High School Flexibility Engagement Project

Interesting Findings of the Pilot Report:

“Alberta Education must take steps to also address:

  • The current model of funding;
  • The nature of the curriculum (including programs of study, assessment and learning resources);
  • The process of high school credentialing;
  • The conception of success; how we measure it, report it and how we are held accountable to it. 
While there is work underway to address all of these areas, the scope of this work is large and time- consuming. The results of the HSFEPP to date makes clear that in the Ministry’s partnership with high schools in the province is a critically important step on the path of transformation aligned with the vision of Inspiring Education. 
Stakeholders suggest that further expansion of high school redesign efforts through the removal of the 25 hour per credit requirement must move ahead intentionally.”


  • Across the board, Alberta’s education vision (and articulation of that vision) is consistent – Ministry > District > School > Classroom
  • Both principal and teacher competencies have been designed and implemented
  • Accountability pillars (using 16 multiple measures) are aligned to student-centered learning
  • Assessments are in place to support student learning (not just identify schools in need of improvement)

A few quotes to end:

  • “All of the highest performing countries globally express a deep commitment to values, and work to share those values with constituencies across the system, including teachers, parents, students and communities.”
  • In Alberta, the commitment to community engagement, outreach in town hall meetings and willingness to listen to students and parents as well as to innovators on the ground to learn about where communities want the future of education to lead (inspired by global competitiveness and engaged in entrepreneurial, personalized learning). The government officials said, “We are all on a journey toward the future for inspiring education.”


P.S. – My colleague Maria Worthen (iNACOL) and Lillian Pace (KnowlegeWorks) just released a terrific paper on rethinking accountability, A K-12 Federal Policy Framework Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change (or as I like to call it, ESEA Accountability 3.0). Check it out on!