Diploma exams to be optional for Alberta students this October and November

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Diploma exams optional this October, November in Alberta
A change in position from Alberta's education minister means Grade 12 students are now allowed to decide whether or not they want to write diploma exams. Sarah Ryan reports – Oct 13, 2020

Alberta Education says diploma exams will be optional for students this term amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement Tuesday morning, the ministry said the exams will be optional for students this October and November. No decision has been made yet on whether diploma exams will be mandatory or optional for the upcoming terms.

“As we continue to listen to students, parents and education partners, it’s clear that some students may not feel comfortable or be in the best position to write exams at this time,” read a statement from Colin Aitchison, press secretary for the education minister’s office.

“We know these are challenging times, and that’s why we want to ensure students and their parents have the flexibility to make the best decision for their own situation this exam season. We will of course continue to monitor how the school year progresses, and make decisions on the remaining exams prior to them being written.”

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The decision comes after several school boards in the province made motions to push the government to cancel diploma exams for Grade 12 students amid uncertainties due to the pandemic.

The Edmonton Public School Board, for example, voted unanimously earlier this month to advocate for the provincial government to cancel diploma exams for students.

“This current school year is not like any other school year that we’ve experienced,” EPSB trustee Shelagh Dunn, who initially brought forward the motion, said when the motion passed on Oct. 6. “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.”

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In a statement, Edmonton Catholic Schools said it supports the ministry’s announcement to allow students and parents to choose whether to write the exams.

“We feel it is in the best interests of student well-being to have this opportunity. Regardless of a student’s decision on whether or not to write the diploma, our teachers will ensure students complete the corresponding outcomes in the program of study,” spokesperson Lori Nagy said.

Based on guidance from Alberta Education, Nagy said students have up until the time the exam is administered to opt out of writing it. She said students who choose not to write the diploma will receive a school-awarded final mark for the course. Those who do write the diploma will receive a blended grade.

Nagy recommended students contact their prospective post-secondary institution to inquire about specific admission requirements, as it could be a determining factor in making their decision.

EPSB chair Trisha Estabrooks said she was pleased with the decision to allow students to make a choice, but added the board would have liked to have seen them cancelled altogether.

“I did hear from many, many students in fact who said, ‘You know what? This isn’t the year to be focusing on diploma exams, there are other very good ways to measure student success and academic success,'” Estabrooks said Tuesday.

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She also noted that with about 30 per cent of students learning online from home, asking them to come to an in-person exam might not be fair.

Diploma exams have been made optional in the past, including in Calgary during the 2013 floods and in Fort McMurray during the 2016 wildfires.

Some school boards were also advocating to have provincial achievement tests cancelled, although those are already optional. Families can simply make a decision for their children to opt out of writing the tests.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some school boards have moved to a quarterly approach to the school year, meaning diploma exams for the first term are scheduled to be written at the end of October and early November.

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