Grading kids during COVID-19: How Alberta compares to other Canadian schools

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on COVID-19 school closures: ‘We are all in this together’
WATCH ABOVE: While some students in Quebec and B.C. will spend time in the classroom, online learning for most Canadian students will continue. Laurel Gregory has more on how Alberta compares.

Only Quebec and B.C. plan to host select students in classrooms this Spring. The majority of Canadian students — including two million Ontario children and teens — will continue learning online. However, assessment for that learning differs dramatically across the country.

For example, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario have given their respective school divisions a directive that high school students’ grades cannot fall below the mark they had when in-person schooling was suspended.

In an email to Global News, Ontario Education spokesperson Ingrid Anderson said no students in that province will have their grades go below what they were on March 13.

“No student’s mark should be negatively affected by performance during the school closure period,” Anderson said. “This applies to both elementary and secondary students. Continuity of learning is critical to prepare students with the knowledge and skills for success in the next grade, course or post-secondary destination.”

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Ontario says in-person school year cancelled, daycares remain closed

Alberta has the expectation that “students who were on track to progress to the next grade level will,” however it is leaving final assessments to teachers, according to ministry of education press secretary Colin Aitchison.

That means each division is determining how to assess students’ performance at a local level. The Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic School District said they would hold mid-term grades, meaning students can earn a higher mark but their grade will not decrease during online learning.

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“Right now we know families in Alberta and Calgary in particular are under a lot of stress, not only through COVID-19, but the economic and stress and the different challenges that every single family is facing,” Bryan Szumlas, chief superintendent of the Calgary Catholic School Division, said.

“In the school division we don’t want to cause extra stress placed upon them.”

READ MORE: Can we really keep kids distant in school amid COVID-19? It won’t be easy, experts say

Szumlas, who worked in the past as chair of the Alberta Assessment Consortium, said local school divisions are best positioned to determine how to handle grading.

“Assessment is a local jurisdiction matter. I believe that’s the best place for assessment to reside because every part of Alberta is different,” Szumlas said. “Ours is a Catholic jurisdiction, right? It’s different than the public school jurisdiction.

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“So for us to have that local autonomy to make the guidelines and standards for our students to move forward — we really appreciate that.”

The Edmonton Catholic School District’s curriculum manager said the district has asked teachers to give students a bit of “grace” and cut back on assignments that count for marks.

“We ask teachers to triangulate their assessment with conversation with the student, observations of what they’re doing and a few number of products and then judge what they did before the pandemic, what they’re doing during the pandemic to come up with the most reasonable judgment of what the final grade should be,” Nicole Lafreniere said. “We are looking at a variety of alternatives to assessment but it is up to teachers in terms of weighting.”

READ MORE: Alberta working with 3 scenarios for school re-entry plan

According to Edmonton Public School District’s Information for Families, teachers will offer final grades based on learning before and after its school facilities were closed. However, if for some reason a student can only finish part of their online learning, “teachers will determine a final mark based on their professional judgement and the student’s standing as of March 15, 2020.”

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on COVID-19 school closures: ‘We are all in this together’
Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on COVID-19 school closures: ‘We are all in this together’

Brock University Education studies professor Louis Volante says the best solution to assessing students during this period of upheaval is to go to a pass-fail system for students in Grade 11 and younger and allow Grade 12 students to close the year with their mid-term grade.

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“We don’t have any best practices that I could identify for this particular situation,” Volante says. “I think we are going to learn a lot based on what’s going on, and hopefully this never happens to us again, but if it does we’ll be in a better position to respond to it.”