Manitoba pulls the plug on Grade 12 exams

·5 min read

Manitoba will discontinue Grade 12 provincial exams, a major step in revamping the K-12 system’s provincewide assessment schedule.

In lieu of distributing timed provincial exams to final-year pupils, the government plans to pilot a series of new standardized tests created by local teachers for Grade 10 students in 2022-23.

“There’s sort of relief,” said Marco Soares, an incoming Grade 12 student at Collège Sturgeon Heights Collegiate. “But at the same time, I have got to think forward in the future and basically, I wonder how that might impact the students who will be going to university next September.”

Soares, 17, wants to apply to the University of Manitoba to study political science, but he said thinking about the high-stakes exams that await him in post-secondary education make him feel nervous and unprepared. The fall term will mark three years since the Winnipeg teenager wrote his first and only traditional high school exams.

As educators grappled with COVID-19 disruptions, many adjusted their assessment approaches in response to student well-being and social distancing logistics.

The province called off its annual Grade 12 tests in the fall of 2020, after teachers raised concerns about the unnecessary stress exams would cause students amid a global health crisis. At the time, officials cited issues related to fairness and validity, due to the fact many students had not returned to full time in-class instruction.

Summative exams for mathematics, English language arts and French, worth up to 30 per cent of a senior student’s final grade in each given subject, have become staples in the K-12 system.

High school teacher Darcia Jones has advocated for a shift away from the current testing model throughout her career.

“I have long held the belief that an exit exam at the end of Grade 12 is not particularly helpful for teaching and learning… When those results come in, it’s too late for us to do anything about it,” said Jones, who teaches Grade 9, 11 and 12 English language arts in Winnipeg.

The updated exams should be diagnostic in nature to improve teaching and learning in a student’s final high school years, she said.

Jones noted she is confused about how English exams will be marked because the subject’s new curriculum framework does not use an “outcomes model” and instead focuses on student choice and variety in classroom instruction.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Education said the move from Grade 12 to Grade 10 responds to the K-12 commission’s calls to action.

“(It) creates an opportunity for divisions, schools, educators and students to use the results of the evaluations to plan for continued student learning, to address student learning needs within their senior years programming, and to inform the allocation of resources both to proactive services prior to Grade 10 and responsive services,” they wrote in an email.

The K-12 commission, which began a wide-ranging, months-long review of the public education system in 2019, addressed the subject in recommendation No. 59 of 75.

The report, released in March 2021 after a yearlong delay due to COVID, suggests Manitoba create curriculum-based tests for mathematics and literacy at Grades 3 or 4, 6 or 7, and 10.

“Increase accountability and transparency through the implementation of provincial curriculum-based tests for mathematics and literacy (with a reading and writing focus) at Grades 3 or 4, 6 or 7, and 10, with school-level scores made available to the public,” states the recommendation.

“Some of the content for the questions used on the tests should be based on the science and social studies curriculum for those years.”

While mathematics Prof. Anna Stokke welcomes the new Grade 10 tests, she would prefer the province keep its Grade 12 assessment.

Some grading consistency will be lost without existing exams because every student’s mark on their standardized test was worth the same sum of their overall course average, said Stokke, of the University of Winnipeg.

“I always say, ‘You can’t fix what you can’t see.’ If we can’t see how our students are doing and if that information isn’t available to the public, then we can’t improve it,” she said.

Manitoba teachers are required to administer and mark formative assessments to measure students’ reading and numeracy levels in Grade 3 and Grade 4 (French immersion reading).

In middle years classrooms, similar tests are undertaken to assess whether Grade 7 learners meet number sense expectations. Eighth-graders are tested on their reading comprehension and expository writing skills midway through the academic year.

A government spokesperson indicated existing elementary school assessments will continue this year.

The future of those tests remains uncertain, as does the province’s decision on publishing school-level test results across the K-12 system.

The government’s latest blueprint for K-12 education states it plans to shift the provincial assessment program to include Manitoba curriculum-based summative assessments in early years, middle years and Grade 10.

In a prepared statement, Education Minister Wayne Ewasko said the shift to Grade 10 timed summative exams “provides an opportunity to intervene where necessary to build student success versus an ‘out the door’ number or statistic.”

James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, was not available for an interview Friday.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press