Floored by exam content

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Dear Editor,
In response to the letter written by Mr. Clint Hutton regarding the Grade 12 diploma exams in the April 18 issue of the ECAReview, I would like to shed a different perspective on the situation.
Diploma exams were originally designed to “level the playing field” to ensure that all students in Alberta were capable of the same level of competency if they complete the Math 30-1 exam. When the two marks (school and diploma) are averaged a fair picture of the student’s capability should emerge. NOT!  Students are under duress at that time of the year with 3-5 diploma exams back to back, one day after the day. They are stressed about their ability to take exams, they don’t sleep, they cram, they don’t eat and panic usually pervades their soul when they crack the cover of the exam.  So what are they testing – content or the ability to take a test?
The “mark” goal of diploma exams is to have an overall average of 66 per cent meaning that if the student body of Alberta achieves a mark higher then the diploma was obviously too easy.  Test questions which result in a 100 per cent achievement level are deemed too easy and are thrown out instead of looking at them as a “hey, I got that!”
At least one question is written so that only 10 per cent of the student body will be able to answer it correctly. When the “designing” of the diploma is such that it trips up the student instead of augmenting and boosting their cumulative learning skills,  you wonder what is going through the minds of people writing these exams and the government bodies approving these exams.
Students have lost entrance scholarships, Rutherford scholarships and Academic Awards because they had a bad day, were stressed, are terrible at test taking, ran out of time or didn’t understand the questions being asked.
I feel for Mr. Hutton’s daughter because I, too, teach Math 30-1 and was floored at the content on the exam and its total irrelevance to what was in my curriculum – so floored that I am seriously doubting my desire to teach diploma subjects. Yet the response from the (PLRD) was absurd. Students shouldn’t have to retake the course – and in fact they do not have to.  They just walk into the writing venue on the June test day and retake the test – as many times as they want for a $25 fee.
There are online courses available for students to relearn the concepts on their own and weekend diploma cram sessions students can enroll in.  The whole idea of students needing to retake the course stems from the fact that it results in more money for the division.
The glimmer of hope we do have, in regards to diploma exams, is that some universities are looking only at the student’s school awarded mark and not the diploma in determining acceptance to their faculties. But that does little to boost a student’s self-esteem after they have opened the envelope from Alberta Education.
Margaret Dart, BHEcol, MEd.
Online High School Teacher
Veteran, AB

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