Provincial Exams are Finished for Many BC Students
This week in British Columbia, the Ministry of Education announced that there would be fewer provincial exams for BC students in the coming year, starting with this year’s summer school, which starts July 1st.
A change to the mandatory exams that students take every year is the latest change to BC schools, with a new curriculum beginning implementation at the elementary to middle school grades, and changes to secondary courses starting in the next two years.
Students that would have written an English 10, Math 10, and Science 10 exam, followed by Social Studies 11 and English 12 provincial exam, will now write a numeracy exam (testing the Math skills that students should master in grade 10) and a literacy exam. We don’t yet know what those exams will look like, and whether they will be tied to a course, as the current courses are tied to provincial exams, or a separate test similar to the FSA (Foundation Skills Assessment) or the SAT exam in the US.
Education Minister Mike Bernier stated that classroom assessment for the subjects that used to have provincial exams, will replace the former testing structure. Teachers “know their students best”, and can take into their strengths and challenges into consideration, instead of having a provincial exam where each student is looked at at the same time.
On the other side, New Democrat education critic Rob Fleming is concerned that teachers in overcrowed, and underfunded classrooms, won’t have the necessary time to ensure that every student is assessed to the same level.
“I think without the government addressing the underfunding of K-to-12 education that’s impossible. We’ve got fewer and fewer individual learning supports for kids and the situation’s getting worse.”
Provincial Exams in the Classroom
As an English language teacher, English 10 and English 12 are the exams that keep my students out of the university of their choice. Passing English 12 is a requirement for most universities in Canada, and not just a pass, usually a much higher average. These students know that they are allowed to take the provincial exam twice for each time they take an English 10 or English 12 course. Often, these students will get a classroom grade of 50% – 60%, but ultimately be unable to pass the provincial exam – which means they have to take either the exam or the course more than once.
The students I work with will take the English 10 and English 12 provincial exam more than once, hoping to at least pass, or get a grade above 60% – which is unusual, and well celebrated.
Speaking of celebrations, I can tell you who unequivocally supports removing the exams – my students.
*The English 12 provincial is especially challenging, and I would invite anyone to attempt one without cracking a book or reviewing their literary terms. You can take a look at the BC Ministry of Education website here.
Provincial Exams as a teacher
I was asked today what I thought from a friend of mine, a mom of two kids, one barely ready for pre-school and the other in elementary school. As a parent, her concerns are that her kids will be subjected to a boring teacher teaching to a standardized test, and not supporting actual learning.
However, when I mentioned that we may just be moving to a SAT style test, she did not like that either. As well, just because there will be fewer standardized tests in secondary school, that doesn’t mean that the universities are going to change their rigorous testing structure, as my friend said – “how will these students manage the crazy exam-heavy course load in post secondary?”
If you are a private or independent school in BC and the grades you give to your students, and the grades the students get on their exams are monitored. If a student has a discrepancy of more than 15% between their class grade and their provincial grade – it’s flagged. During our school inspection, the school inspector will look at the student provincial grades, and our class grades. If a student is getting 75% in our classes, and gets 30% on the exam – well, we have some explaining to do.
20% of a course grade that is not tied to the teacher’s discretion, is not a lot – but it is definitely the difference between passing and failing for students struggling in a class.
It is difficult to decide whether or not to bump a student’s mark up – especially if they’ve been working hard in class and doing their assignments, to a passing grade. Having 20% of their grade out of my hands means that it is up to both the student passing the exam and the discretion of the person marking their exam, which is usually another teacher like myself.
Without the ability to get a second opinion one teacher is deciding the fate of a classroom of students. Is that better than an impartial province wide exam for core courses? Without these tests, what are the checks and balances to make sure that students AND teachers are meeting standards?
While I understand the sentiment that exams don’t measure the holistic ability of students, without them we aren’t measuring anything. If a student is struggling, they are more likely to be pushed onto the next grade by overworked and sympathetic teachers. In a system already underfunded and overcrowded, I think more students will be falling through the cracks.