STAR Catholic Schools hopes to change exam weighting

Exams are stressful, particularly when they are worth half a student’s grade and STAR Catholic Schools is hoping to change that

  • Nov. 13, 2014 2:00 p.m.

Exams are stressful, particularly when they are worth half a student’s grade and STAR Catholic Schools is hoping to change that, officials say.

Earlier this month STAR, which is based in Leduc and has schools in Lacombe and throughout Central Alberta, put forth a motion which will debated by all school divisions in Alberta to change the weighting of Grade 12 provincial diploma exams from 50% of a student’s final grade to 30%.

John Tomkinson, STAR Catholic Schools board chair, said that the weighting of diploma exams in Alberta is something that has been talked about at a number of levels in the past.

He added it seemed like the time was right for a formal discussion about diploma weighting.

“This is an issue that has been raised not only by the students, but also by parents, by the teachers and by education administration and governance across the province over the years,” said Tomkinson.

“We felt that now was a very appropriate time, in line with Inspiring Education and the goals listed in there, to reflect upon the weighting to be more appropriately in line with the direction that education in Alberta is going.”

One of the main drivers behind the motion is the belief that lowering the weight given to diploma exams will also lower student anxiety about them.

Tomkinson said that this in turn will allow students to perform better on the diploma exams.

The purposes, said Tomkinson are threefold.

Diplomas exist to certify the level of student achievement, to ensure that province-wide standards are being met and to report individual and group results. Tomkinson said that a 30% weight isn’t so low that these goals are not achieved, but not so high as to increase the risk of students’ anxiety resulting in poor performance on the exams.

“We settled on that number as the beginning of a discussion point,” said Tomkinson.

Tomkinson added that diploma exams are an important tool used by Alberta Education to make sure students and teachers are meeting high standards.

While that is true, they can accomplish those goals without putting so much stress on students, he added.

“We’re not calling for the removal or the ending of diploma examinations,” said Tomkinson. “Nor are we calling or advocating in any way, shape or form for a lowering of the bar. What we are calling for is a modification of the end measurement.”

There are reasons other than anxiety to consider when discussing a change in diploma weighting as well.

For example, lowering the weight of diploma exams on a student’s final grade also raises the weight of the rest of that student’s class work on the final grade, something many students, teachers and parents support.

“That absolutely is a natural outcome of a desire to move in this way,” said Tomkinson.

Changing the weight of diplomas would have little effect on STAR Catholic Schools in Lacombe as Father Lacombe, the only STAR school in the City, is only K-9.

But, as Lacombe Trustee Thalia Hibbs noted, those students grow up to write diplomas in Grade 12 and hopefully, the weighting of the exams will have changed by that time.

“I’d love to see that, I really think that would be amazing for the students.”

Hibbs agreed with Tomkinson that a 30% weight still allowed diplomas to perform their purpose and that it is good to give schoolwork other than diplomas more significance in terms of a final mark.

She went on to speak about how decreasing the weight of diploma exams also gives more respect to teachers as professionals who assess students.

“That I think respects the professionalism of what teachers do,” said Hibbs.

“They’re not just babysitters. These are professionals. Why are we not trusting what they do and their assessments as to what a student’s mark as?”

STAR Catholic Schools’ motion to change the diploma weighting will be voted on by the Alberta School Boards Association at its fall general meeting, which runs from Nov. 16th-18th, said Hibbs. Should it be accepted, it will then be presented to the Alberta government.

This is not the first time there have been adjustments to provincial diploma exams in Canada or even in Alberta.

Tomkinson said from 1905 – 1974, a weight of 100% was given to diploma exams. Between 1974 and 1984, there were no diplomas.

Tomkinson said that the problem Alberta experienced during that 10-year period was grade inflation.

He said that in 1984 diplomas were reintroduced with the format currently in place.