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Southern Alberta students protest diploma exams during COVID-19

Southern Alberta students request cancellation of diploma exams
Students in Vauxhall, Alta., are writing to their MLAs and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange to request that diploma exams not be counted this year due to the added complications of COVID-19. As Emily Olsen reports, MLA Joseph Schow is planning to pay a visit to the students to hear more about their concerns next week.

Grade 12 Vauxhall High School student Chelsey Mills received a phone call from her MLA Joseph Schow after she wrote a letter to him and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.

It requested diploma exams be reconsidered this year due to the extra time out of class for quarantine, students learning online and the limited internet access many rural students have at home.

“He heard my opinion and got my main concerns,” Mills said Wednesday.

Read more: Coronavirus: What schools in Alberta have COVID-19 outbreaks

But Horizon School Division Supt. Wilco Tymensen says the answer is clear to him.

“My perspective would be that we make them either optional or not have them this year.”

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Schow says he’s looking to hear from more students about the future of diplomas.

“I think it’s a great question and it’s one worth bringing to the minister of education,” Schow said. “But I do believe that testing is a good way of measuring where students are at.”

He adds diploma marks are crucial to universities for enrollment, which the superintendent says isn’t quite true.

“They do provide a consistent level for comparing kids across the province,” Tymensen said. “But when you look at university entrances, universities use their own criteria and their own metrics for allowing kids to register.

“Kids in other provinces don’t write diplomas.”

When asked about the validity of maintaining diploma exams during the pandemic, a spokesperson for the minister of education said in a statement to Global News:

“…a survey conducted by the Alberta School Councils’ Association found that 64 per cent of parents surveyed favoured a return to regular assessment, including diploma exams, for the 2020-21 school year… We will continue to monitor the situation as the school year progresses and make any adjustments to the school re-entry plan as required.”

Tymensen says he’s heard from parents surveyed that they believed the diplomas would provide a boost to students’ marks, which he says is an inaccurate assumption.

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“When you look at the actual data, typically diploma exam marks are lower than the classroom mark,” he said.

“And so they don’t actually increase your mark, they typically would flatten or lower it somewhat.”

Read more: Calgary school added to ‘watch’ list as Alberta adds 124 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Schow says he will be meeting with students and staff at Vauxhall High School next week to hear more about their concerns.