Province takes tentative steps towards return of exams

More details about the rollout of Manitoba’s new assessment schedule to public, independent and First Nations school leaders were released

High school teachers will hand out provincial exams once again in the fall, but government officials have yet to decide how much Grade 12 test results will count — if anything — toward a student’s final course mark.

This week, Manitoba Education released more details about the rollout of its new assessment schedule to public, independent and First Nations school leaders.

The first stage of the plan involves the introduction of Grade 10 evaluations and reinstatement of final-year exams, after a hiatus that was initially triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. It comes into effect in the first semester of 2023-24.

Current Grade 9 students will be tested on their mathematics, reading and writing skills upon entering a new level next year. The assessment process is anticipated to take participants three hours in total.

“They are intended to be used as a formative assessment to identify student learning strengths and needs to inform planning at the student, classroom, school and system level. Currently, there are no plans to include these results on student report cards,” Janet Tomy, assistant deputy minister of student achievement and inclusion, said in a Wednesday letter.

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Tomy said a decision on the weight of Grade 12 tests — the final element of 40S English Language Arts, French, French as a second language, and respective applied, essential and pre-calculus mathematics courses — has yet to be determined.

These timed assessments have traditionally accounted for 30 per cent of each student’s overall mark, with the exception of the 20 per cent essential mathematics test.

Grade 12 student Bonnie Chen said it makes sense to maintain those percentages because high-stakes tests motivate students to hone their study skills and learn how-to review content across numerous units.

The 17-year-old laments her limited experience taking such tests, owing to her high school experience being disrupted by COVID-19, because she knows they will be unavoidable at the university level.

“To be blunt, exam weeks are dreadful and it’s not fun — but at the same time, they are essential to prepare us for the bigger things that are to come,” said Bonnie, who is planning to study sciences at the University of British Columbia next year.

The onset of the pandemic and renewed concerns about student well-being have prompted schools to shift away from assigning anxiety-inducing tests in recent years. Last semester, teachers in both Winnipeg’s St. James-Assiniboia and Louis Riel districts were asked to refrain from giving finals worth more than 10 per cent of a course grade.

The education department revealed it was discontinuing Grade 12 provincial exams in the summertime, as part of its assessment schedule revamp.

Government officials recently walked back that announcement, which sparked concern among testing traditionalists, citing ongoing conversations about the value of continuing the longstanding tradition within Manitoba Education.

The revived exams are slated to be “similar in process and structure” as the last ones administered in January 2020, Tomy told superintendents in her memo.

Existing elementary and middle-years evaluations will also proceed as usual, although the bureaucrat signaled plans to develop new Grade 4 and 7 evaluations.

Superintendent Christian Michalik said he would rather see dollars earmarked for ongoing professional development, so teachers can collectively reflect on their practices related to daily classroom evaluation — “which represents 99.999 per cent of the assessments that matter (on) a student’s school journey.”

“I’d like to see the evidence that investment in these large-scale testing programs results in school improvement,” said Michalik, who oversees the Louis Riel School Division.

A spokesperson for the Manitoba Teachers’ Society indicated the union generally does not have any problems with “assessments that inform instruction and are genuinely used to help students.”

“But we do not support using high-stakes exams to compare and rank the performance of students, teachers, schools and divisions,” society president Nathan Martindale said in a statement.

This story was originally published in The Free PressIt is republished under a Creative Commons license as part of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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