The impact of the global pandemic on children is an ongoing conversation with parents and educators that I speak with. Though much is still unknown, what we do know is there are tangible action school divisions and Alberta Education can take to ease the stress that some students are feeling.
Suspending diploma exams and provincial achievement tests is one way in which our education system can respond to what our students are experiencing.
That’s why at the public board meeting on October 6, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to advocate to the Minister of Education to cancel PATs and diploma exams this year.
My colleague, Vice-chair Shelagh Dunn lead this motion and although I introduced an amendment to her motion to make diplomas optional, in the end I supported the original motion believing that we should be taking all steps possible to support our students during this unprecedented year.
My reasons for supporting the motion include:
- Hearing from students and families who believe this is not the year to be adding undue stress to students. This is the year to prioritize mental health for students.
- Re-opening schools during a pandemic has meant many changes to the way in which students are learning. Thirty percent of EPSB students are learning online and high school students have moved to a quarterly model.
- A large number of students have been affected and will continue to be affected by public health orders to isolate when a case is detected in their classes. This disruption impacts students’ mental health and has the potential for students to miss more instructional time than usual.
- As of writing this blog post there has been no model presented to allow students to take the diploma exams online. This poses a challenge for those students who have chosen to learn online. Why should we ask those students to compromise their own health or the health of their loved ones so they can write an exam?
- It is also not clear about the feasibility of using data collected from this year’s exams for comparison purposes given the anomalies of learning during a pandemic.
I, like many parents I spoke with prior to the October 6 meeting, want a rigorous measurement tool to assess my child’s knowledge of the Alberta curriculum. I am confident, however, that teacher awarded marks during this year of so much change can fill that gap.
Since that October 6 meeting, I am pleased to say that Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced that diploma exams for this Fall will be optional for all Alberta students.
“Future diploma exams will also be evaluated, and LaGrange will decide if those will be made optional as well. The decisions are expected closer to the dates the exams are written.” – source 630 CHED
And in late October, EPSB announced PATs will not be going ahead this year. This decision is meant to help alleviate some of the stress students and families are experiencing as a result of COVID-19.
Though we talk about a “return to normal” – this year really isn’t normal and we shouldn’t treat it as such.