The Edmonton Public School Board has moved to advocate for the provincial government to cancel diploma exams for Grade 12 students and Provincial Achievement Tests this school year.
On Tuesday, board members voted unanimously to approve the motion, although the decision on whether or not to cancel the exams rests with the provincial government.
“This current school year is not like any other school year that we’ve experienced,” Edmonton Public School Board trustee Shelagh Dunn, who initially brought forward the motion, said. “I think that we need to keep in mind that we’re operating in the midst of a global emergency and our education system is under tremendous stress as a result.
“I think we’ve all been hearing about how this has been impacting students and staff. We know that almost 30 per cent of our students are learning online,” Dunn said.
She added that in the EPSB, there have been outbreaks or cases identified in at least 21 per cent of the division’s schools.
“All of these things in combination are really stressful for our system, our students and our staff,” Dunn said.
On Tuesday, Colin Aitchison, the press secretary for Alberta’s education minister, said the government believes parents want the tests to go forward.
“As we developed our school re-entry plan, we heard very clearly that parents wanted a return to regular assessment for their children,” Aitchison said in a statement.
“In fact, 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.
“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.”
Board chair Trisha Estabrooks said she believes the province needs to realize the challenges that students and staff are facing this year.
“I think that there’s a recognition by the board of trustees that this is a year unlike any other,” Estabrooks said. “And so we have to do things differently, and that is at the heart of what we are advocating for to the minister of education.”
She added that the survey the government referenced was done back in May, but “things have changed a lot since May, and so it’s possible that parents’ perceptions about the value of writing diploma exams during a global pandemic may have also shifted.”
The board also included Provincial Achievement Tests in the motion, although they are already optional. Families can simply make a decision for their children to opt out of them already.
“The tests are standardized tests, but this year is not a standardized year,” Dunn said.
Aitchison said that EPSD “already has the authority” to decide if schools in the division will administer PAT’s this year.
“Participation is optional for school authorities for the 2020-21 school year,” he told Global News. “This is clearly outlined on Page 14 of Alberta’s School Re-Entry Plan and has been communicated to school authorities by Alberta Education.”
The board said that there were also examples in the past where the province made diploma exams optional, including in Calgary during the 2013 floods and in Fort McMurray during the 2016 wildfires.
Estabrooks did try to push for the board to vote for the motion to be changed to advocate for the diploma exams to be optional, as opposed to completely cancelled, but that amendment did not pass a vote.
“I recognize that this year is very different, yet there are parts of our lives that are continuing — like applying to university,” Estabrooks said.
“The choice to write a diploma exam shouldn’t be taken away from students. Let’s give students that choice.”
Diploma exams for Grade 12 students in Alberta are set to begin at the end of October.
The ultimate decision will be made by the Government of Alberta. Global News has reached out to the Ministry of Education for a response to the motion.
Edmonton Public School Board families are now also being asked to choose whether their children will be learning online or in-person for the second quarter of the school year. The deadline for EPSB students to decide for this coming quarter is Oct. 19.