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Locals relieved diploma exams made optional

Tests would not have been COVID-friendly, says St. Albert Public Supt. Sumners
1710 DiplomaOptional SA final exams web
OPTIONAL – Scenes such as this one from St. Albert Catholic High School last January might be a rarity this fall as the province has made diploma exams optional. Some 1,500 St. Albert-area Grade 12 students could potentially write diploma exams this fall. DAN RIEDLHUBER/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert school officials say they are relieved Alberta’s education minister has made this quarter’s diploma exams optional, and hope she will do the same for the rest of them this school year.  

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced on Twitter Oct. 13 she would make diploma exams optional for students this October and November due to the pandemic. 

Diploma exams make up 30 per cent of a Grade 12 student’s grade in any core subject and are held five times a year. This fall’s exams were scheduled to run Oct. 29 to Nov. 10.  

In an email, education minister press secretary Colin Aitchison said it was clear some students were not in the best position to write diploma exams at this time. 

“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.” 

A Q&A document released by Alberta Education stated students who choose not to take a diploma exam this fall would have their final grade based entirely on their in-class performance. The test is otherwise worth 30 per cent of their final grade.  

Aitchison said the province would monitor how the school year progresses and make decisions on the future rounds of diploma exams before they are written.

Smart move, say schools 

St. Albert Public superintendent Krimsen Sumners said she was pleased by LaGrange’s decision, noting board trustees had called on the province to cancel all diploma exams this school year. 

“It’s just not a normal year,” she said, and we need to trust that our teachers can evaluate students on their own. 

Diploma exams are already stressful for many students and doing them this fall would have meant packing scores of students into gyms to write them while wearing masks, Sumners said. 

“It definitely would not have been COVID-friendly.” 

Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools deputy superintendent Rhonda Nixon said she supported LaGrange’s move.

"It takes the pressure off the students,” she said, especially for students whose classes might have been disrupted by a case of COVID-19.

In a media release, Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling said LaGrange’s decision was a prudent one to protect staff and students, as holding exams could pressure students with COVID-19 symptoms to attend school instead of isolating at home. 

“COVID has created so much uncertainty and anxiety in schools, and many students and staff are missing large chunks of school time as a result of requirements to quarantine or self-isolate,” he said. 

“Diploma exams would not be fair to students and, this year in particular, would not produce reliable results.” 

Some might still write 

There are roughly 1,500 Grade 12 students in the St. Albert Public and Catholic school districts this fall, any number of whom could choose not to write this fall’s diploma exams, Sumners and Nixon estimated. Alberta Education has asked school boards to tell them how many exams they think they will need by Oct. 20.  

The tests might be optional, but Nixon predicted a fair number of students would still write them. Some might want to boost their marks, while others might be adults challenging a diploma exam (which lets them get a final mark for a course without taking instruction in it).  

Some post-secondary institutions might require diploma exams as part of a final grade. The University of Alberta has said it shall accept final grades from Alberta students even if those students do not write diploma exams whenever the province declares those tests cancelled or optional due to COVID-19. 

Nixon said teachers are now discussing the implications of this year’s optional diploma exams with their students.  

Sumners said parents with questions on the tests should direct them to their local school principal. 

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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