Nicole Buchanan, chair of the Red Deer Public School board, is against diploma exams being held this year, saying they will be of dubious merit because of student absenteeism, and will add to stress and anxiety. (Photo contributed.)

Nicole Buchanan, chair of the Red Deer Public School board, is against diploma exams being held this year, saying they will be of dubious merit because of student absenteeism, and will add to stress and anxiety. (Photo contributed.)

Red Deer Public School trustees call for cancelling of diploma exams

‘The stakes are high’

Red Deer public school trustees are calling on the provincial government to suspend Grade 12 diploma exams for this school year because of the pandemic.

“For Grade 12 students, the stakes are high,” said Laurette Woodward, the school board’s vice chair, since these exams are worth 30 per cent of their marks and can impact their admission to post-secondary institutions.

“Anxiety and stress” has already been expressed by students who feel they have already fallen behind in assignments because they have had to self-isolate for 14 days, due to possible COVID-19 exposure, Woodward said.

“Because they’ve had to stay home, some of their teachers are seeing gaps in their learning.”

The Red Deer Public Schools Board intends to present a resolution to the Alberta School Boards Association’s general meeting in November, calling for no diploma exams for the current school year.

Board chair Nicole Buchanan said while teachers have been giving homework to students who are away from the classroom, “we are hearing there are many students who … fall further behind, creating significant anxiety.”

Superintendent Chad Erickson has been hearing reports from students, parents and teachers that the prospects of diploma exams “are creating a great degree of stress specifically related to COVID-19.”

Schools are also concerned about the logistics of administering hundreds of these exams, with physical distancing requirements and the mix of some students learning in school and others at home.

Later this month, Red Deer’s public school trustees plan to discuss whether their schools should opt out of provincial achievement tests for Grade 6 and 9 students.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has made these tests optional, at the discretion of the school board.

“We know this is an issue,” said Buchanan. “We are hearing increasing concerns from parents, students and staff advocating for the suspension of provincial exams, given the uncertainty of COVID-19.”

Erickson noted, “Given the multiple challenges schools have faced this year, we are confident that in-class assessment by teachers will provide a true picture on student knowledge and understanding of course outcomes.”

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools has not taken a position yet on whether Grade 12 diploma exams should be cancelled. But the district will not be holding provincial achievement testing for Grade 6 and 9 students.

Acting school superintendent Kathleen Finnigan said, after consultation with school administration and neighbouring jurisdictions, “our division has decided to forgo participation in the provincial achievement tests this school year.

“Our focus is on students’ mental health and well-being during COVID-19, and we are working with our teachers on the progression of student learning.”

So far, Alberta Education is not planning to drop the diploma exams.

LaGrange’s spokesperson, Colin Aitchison, said the school re-entry plan was developed after “we heard very clearly that parents wanted a return to regular assessment for their children.”

A survey conducted by the Alberta School Councils’ Association found that 64 per cent of parents favoured a return to regular assessment — including diploma exams — for the 2020-21 school year, said Aitchison.

“That said, we are always exploring options to make this return to in-person learning as smooth as possible and we will make adjustments to the school re-entry plan as required.”

Red Deer Public School