School division brings back exam week


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Testing traditionalists have successfully overturned the St. James-Assiniboia School Division’s recent directive to scrap exam periods and enforce a 10 per cent cap on the weight of finals.

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Testing traditionalists have successfully overturned the St. James-Assiniboia School Division’s recent directive to scrap exam periods and enforce a 10 per cent cap on the weight of finals.

“A crucial preparation experience for post-secondary schooling has been lost,” said Shelley Shepherd, one of two parents who voiced concerns during a board meeting this week about the SJASD’s recent shift away from high-stakes tests.

Shepherd described her daughter’s introduction to post-secondary education as “hellish,” citing a COVID-19-related moratorium on high school exams.

The mother of two said it’s been difficult to watch her 18-year-old — who graduated from Collège Sturgeon Heights Collegiate in 2022 — be consumed by anxiety in the lead up to university exams because of her limited test-taking experience.

Shepherd and Nicole Bowering, a former trustee who has three school-aged children, urged leaders to reinstate pre-pandemic assessment policies in the wake of Manitoba’s U-turn to reinstate Grade 12 provincial exams.

The arrival of COVID-19 and related uncertainty prompted the education department to suspend its mathematics, English and French exams.

Concerned about the state of student mental health, many public school teachers followed suit and found alternative ways to measure progress in their classrooms throughout 2020, 2021 and 2022.

A renewed emphasis on well-being in Winnipeg classrooms paved the way for leaders in SJASD and Louis Riel school board offices to overhaul testing practices. Both employers requested their teachers assign end-of-term tests, none of which could exceed 10 per cent of an overall course grade, during regular class time this year.

But in a unanimous vote on Tuesday — following Shepherd and Bowering’s presentation — SJASD trustees agreed to revive assessment weeks in 2023-24 and review “a standard minimum exam component.”

“Until exams are no longer a thing at the post-secondary level or in trades or accreditation for jobs, we need to prepare our students for the future,” said trustee Craig Glennie, who introduced the motion, when reached by phone Friday.

Glennie, a father of two young students in Silver Heights, said he has heard from numerous parents who were hesitant about the updated protocols.

“At this time, senior administrators are working with the trustees to ensure assessment practices in SJASD remain rigorous in order to promote student success, while being fair and equitable to all,” Jordana Buckwold, acting assistant superintendent of education, said in a statement.

Buckwold noted the division is awaiting more information from the province regarding the anticipated implementation of Grade 10 and 12 assessments next year.

The University of Manitoba’s Martha Koch, who researches assessment and trains teacher candidates, said she is “very discouraged” by recent changes to assessment schedules at Manitoba Education and the SJASD.

In an email Friday, Koch said pandemic findings and an extensive body of educational research showcase the value of putting less emphasis on finals in favour of other assessment strategies.

“(Exams) are time-limited, use only a written format, and often do not permit students to use the tools that we all use to engage in the complex tasks that are central to our lives today,” said the associate professor of education.

Bowering and Shepherd celebrated their school board’s swift action to reinstate its old ways.

As far as Bowering is concerned, getting rid of high school exams delays a student’s encounters with stressful tests and leaves them with “fewer tools in their mental-health toolbox” to meet challenges later in life.

Sandy Nemeth, chairwoman of LRSD’s board of trustees, confirmed her division has no intention of revisiting its updated testing directive.

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.


Updated on Monday, March 13, 2023 9:37 AM CDT: Changes headline

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