Clearview surprised by province’s decision on diploma exam weighting

The superintendent of Clearview Public Schools said this week he was surprised by Alberta Education’s decision

The superintendent of Clearview Public Schools said this week he was surprised by Alberta Education’s decision to lower the weighting of diploma exam marks towards students’ final marks.

The provincial government announced on Monday, March 16 that it would shift the weight from a 50-50 split to a 70-30 split.

Effective Sept. 1, 2015, diploma exams in a subject will make up 30 per cent of the mark while the school-awarded grades will make up the remaining 70 per cent.

“We want students to benefit from classroom assessments that reflect their abilities over a longer period of time, rather than relying so heavily on one assessment lasting only a few hours,” education minister Gordon Dirks was quoted in a press release.

The press release also stated that the change in weighting would give a more accurate reflection of student performance by putting more emphasis on how a teacher assesses a student’s abilities and knowledge.

In Alberta, students write diploma exams for their core Grade 12 courses, which include language arts, social studies, mathematics and sciences.

Peter Barron, Clearview superintendent, said that Clearview and other school boards in Zone 4 had not yet had their scheduled meeting with the minister, which has now been postponed twice.

“We weren’t expecting that announcement,” he said. “Our board was generally in favour of keeping it the way it was.”

He noted, however, that division staff members are positive about the change.

While he argued that no assessment could cover all possible outcomes, he also said he believes Dirks is “sensitive to that.”

“It may or may not change anything, it’s hard to know just yet,” he said. “I think we need a good assessment system in our province, so that we know our kids are doing well.”

Barron said Dirks had planned meetings with school boards in each of Alberta’s zones, to discuss challenges and issues — including the weighting of diploma exams — and to see how the boards are working towards the goals of the Inspiring Education program.

He added that he hopes the minister will still be able to visit the boards in Zone 4 before a provincial election is called, but also said that’s unlikely.

“If they’re going into election mode, this could be postponed for quite a while,” said Barron, calling the situation “unfortunate” and adding, “It was a missed opportunity for him to get to know us better.”

The announcement was welcomed by the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA), whose president, Helen Clease, said Monday that it would have a positive impact on the province’s high school students.

“This decision was a long time coming,” Clease was quoted in a press release. “Communities have been telling school boards for a long time that this is one of their priorities.”

At an ASBA meeting in November, 82 per cent of Alberta’s school boards voted in favour of a motion calling on the province to drop the weight of diploma exams.

The first diploma exams to be written under the new weighting will take place in November of 2015.

The province also announced on Monday the introduction of new dual-credit partnerships, touted as giving students more opportunities to earn post-secondary credits or workplace certification while finishing high school with 24 new partnerships.