You asked for a car for your birthday but settled for a computer instead…..
Diploma exams are a hotly contested issue in Alberta among teachers, politicians, and the general public. Currently they count for 50% of a Grade 12 student’s final mark. This mark is then used when the student applies for University entrance anywhere in Canada, not just in our province.
So what’s the issue? Well, a kid who didn’t sleep well enough, is sick, or is just plain nervous about the exam can do anywhere from 15% – 45% worse on their diploma then the perform in the rest of the course. I’ve seen it happen. That student who normally aces everything can’t sleep the night before the exam, skips breakfast, panics as soon as she opens the test booklet and VOILA! Scores a 56% on the Math 30 diploma when she scored an 86% in the course. The result….a 72% on her transcript. A good mark? It might not be good enough.
How do I know this happens? Because it happened to me. And I lost every early acceptance scholarship I had been awarded because of it. I still went to my choice of university, but I lost my Rutherford for Grade 12, my Early Entrance Award Scholarship, and my Academic Award Scholarship. Total damage? $5400, or in other words…..most of my tuition money.
Because of one exam…….
I retook the exam in July but by then the damage had been done. I was working two jobs and didn’t have the time I wanted to dedicate to studying for a re-write. My faith in my abilities was completely rattled and the second time around I didn’t score much better. A 66% instead.
I wasn’t exactly Einstein but I did considered myself to be a decent student. I scored in the 80s in all my other subjects, placed 3rd in my class overall, and was generally considered to be an “academic” student by faculty of my school. I’m not alone in my story. Countless numbers of kids have followed down the same path I went down many years ago when it comes to marks and exams.
So I was encouraged when I read an article from the University of Calgary publishing outlet called: The Gauntlet. It’s a student run news source so I’m not 100% of the accuracy but even if the IDEAS are correct….it’s enough to raise my hopes.“A recent move by the University of Saskatchewan to accept Alberta students based on either their teacher-awarded mark or a mark with the diplomas included, whichever increases the student’s chance of acceptance, has sparked discussion about how the diploma examinations affect Alberta students trying to enter universities nationwide.
Wow, do I ever hope this is true. Our kids are facing an uphill battle in competing for university entrance with students in other provinces that don’t find themselves facing a 50% diploma exam at the end of the year. The article also reported that, “According to a U of S study of 12,000 university students over a three-year period, Albertan students’ grades drop an average of 6.4 per cent when entering university from high school, compared to their counterparts from British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario who see grades drop an average of 19.6 per cent.”
So what? Well, one could interpret this to mean that we are producing strong academic students in Alberta that score high school marks that are more consistent with university level expectations. It could also mean that due to unequal standards, a mark coming from an Alberta student could potentially be lower than it would if that student had come from another province.
So why were they (diploma exams) brought in at all? Well, the article explains:“The standardized diploma exams were introduced in 1984 to certify the level of achievement for grade 12 courses and ensure a province-wide standard was upheld.”
This means that students within Alberta could be more easily compared with each other since they were all writing the same test on the same curriculum. It was argued that teacher bias when issuing student final grades was kept in check with the addition of final exams. The flaws with that theory are numerous and that’s a whole other blog post right there….but at any rate, the biggest issue is: What happens when our students compete with students from other provinces where the curriculum is different and final marks are calculated in different ways? From the University of Calgary, the Associate Registrar admits, “Looking at Alberta students who have to write the diploma exams compared to other places that don’t, we have seen that there seems to be a bit of a discrepancy in grading across the country, but we don’t do things differently than other institutions.” And in there lies the belief that as long as the U of C is operating under the same admission policies as the rest of the country, then everything should be fine. Right…? Wrong.
Our education minister has already told us that they will not be getting rid of diploma exams BUT they are pushing for the weighting to be reduced. Instead they are looking at a potential 80/20 split which would significantly reduce the impact of a diploma exam.
What would that have meant for me when I was in high school? It means my final mark in Math 30 would have been 80% instead of 72%. A difference of what some people would say is “only 8 marks”, but to me that would have been a difference of $5400 off my student loan.
Our Education Minister has also indicated he is going to push for some sort of nationwide standardization. Unfortunately he means for other provinces to introduce diplomas instead of getting rid of ours. I don’t know know how successful he will be with this move or even if it makes a difference, given that curriculum itself is not standard across the nation either.
I don’t teach a diploma course, I admit that. But I’ve seen what those teachers go through and the students that are involved. The 50% weighting hangs over all their heads like a dangling axe waiting to fall. And some of us have been unlucky enough to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Are University Registrar’s going to change admission policies? Well, there’s hope!“The U of S is just one of a handful of universities that are changing admission standards for Albertan students to ensure a fair comparison. Carlton University and St. Francis Xavier have already begun disregarding Alberta diploma marks.”
Ok, so maybe it’s not the car…..maybe it’s just a computer. But it’s a start. Go use your computer to keep researching on cars.
At any rate, I’m just glad that this discussion is even on the table. It shows once again that our new government is open to change and flexibility. But I’ll tell you now Minister….most of us still want the car.