As has been the case during past provincial emergencies, some students in Alberta are getting the option to take a pass on writing diploma exams this year.
During a wildfire update Monday, Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis acknowledged how disruptive the evacuations have been for students, teachers and parents with dozens of schools needing to temporarily close.
“I recognize that this is really disruptive,” he said, noting that at its peak so far, the wildfire situation saw 68 schools be closed, impacting over 16,000 students.
As of Thursday afternoon, Ellis said 28 schools remain closed but 7,600 of those impacted students have now returned to class.
High school students affected by wildfire evacuations will be automatically exempt from diploma exams, according to Alberta Education.
“This means that a student who has been displaced from a school as a result of the wildfires for 10 or more school days is automatically exempted from writing their diploma exams this June, and not have it count against their final grades,” said Colin Blair with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency during Monday’s briefing.
He said students who don’t want the exemption can write the exams at a different school in June, or wait and write them in August.
Diploma exams normally account for 30 per cent of a student’s final mark, with the other 70 per cent coming from classroom marks. (Prior to September 2015, diploma exams made up 50 per cent of the final mark.)
For the 2022-23 school year however, diploma exam weighting has been reduced to 20 per cent because of pandemic learning challenges — students in Grade 12 now would have had their entire high school education experience disrupted several times because of COVID-19 lockdowns. The weighting of diploma exams will return to 30 per cent in the 2023-24 school year.
When a student is exempt from the diploma exam, their classroom mark alone will be their final grade.
Several times in recent years, Alberta Education has made writing diplomas optional during emergencies, such as in Calgary during the 2013 floods and in Fort McMurray during the 2016 wildfires.
In 2019, all finals were cancelled for students from the High Level area due to a wildfire that forced residents out for several weeks.
In that case, students who still wanted to still write their diploma, Grade 6 or Grade 9 provincial achievement test were allowed to make arrangements with their school board to do so.
Diploma exams are administered in November, January, April, June and August each year.
In April and June 2020, diploma exams were cancelled because students were learning at home for the last few months of the school year due to the pandemic.
During the 2020-21 school year, all diploma exams were optional. Last school year, diploma exams were cancelled in January and the remainder of the exams were weighted at 10 per cent.