Inconsistency in high school exams is a problem, say students and educators

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Although most classes have returned to pre-pandemic operations, final exams are not necessarily back on every high school student’s schedule. Over the past three years, students have been given different final exams by province, school board, or even their individual teachers.

While some exams have resumed as before, others have yet to resume practice.

This inconsistency in approach is concerning, according to students, high school teachers and post-secondary educators who spoke to CBC News.

Makayla McIntosh (Brampton, Ontario)

Brampton, Ontario, student Makayla McIntosh just successfully completed her first exams in her 9th grade classes and has been getting grades in the 80s and 90s. “You don’t want your first exam to be in -11 or 12th grade or university when that stuff really counts,” she said. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Despite being an eager student who prepared thoroughly, 9th grader Makayla McIntosh was quite nervous and “dreaded” her first high school final this week.

“The word ‘examination’ – if they just called it a test I think it would be much less [stressful],” she said. The Dufferin Peel Catholic School Board student had just completed her geography, science, business technology and physical education exams.

Despite her earlier fears, the 14-year-old was still delighted to have exams at all. She thinks they are valuable for younger high school students.

“You don’t want your first exam to be in 11th or 12th grade or in college when that stuff really counts,” said McIntosh, who hopes to make the honor roll. “I think it’s good to practice.”

The young man felt like “just a test and it’s not that bad,” she added. “I was surprised, to be honest… I think we were stressing for no reason.”

Jules Pryma (Abbottsford, BC)

Abbotsford, BC, teacher Jules Pryma, who has taught high school science for 25 years, believes the exams for 11th and 12th graders are absolutely necessary. (Submitted by Jules Pryma)

High school teacher Jules Pryma sees things differently. After 25 years of teaching science, developing and adapting his approach to assessment, he feels that grades 9 and 10 may be a little too young to demand final exams. Still, he considers them essential for older students

The Abbotsford School District educator sees final exams as a valuable tool, among many others, such as: B. class discussions, work assignments in small and larger groups or a test of practical skills (eg. unit tests.

Pryma believes that the current inconsistency in high school grading and testing contributes to a tendency of over-grading and unprepared students for post-secondary education, whether they choose university, college or trade programs.

“They crossed the country to go to school, and that’s how they are [expecting] to be prepared for hardships,” he said. “And certainly in science and math… in those areas these students need to be well prepared – and we’re not preparing them well enough.”

While he doesn’t recommend simply going back to past practices — “we can come up with much better proofs,” he said — Pryma believes proofs are a necessity.

“The focus has to be on knowledge and skills, and not just predominantly skills,” he said. “And [it] it must be done as an individual, in a place where they work independently, alone.”

Ishal Ali (Ottawa)

Although the cancellation of her first exams by her Ottawa school board initially felt “like a load was almost lifted off my shoulders,” grade 10 student Ishaal Ali now feels at a disadvantage. (Submitted by Ishaal Ali)

As she began 10th grade this year, Ishaal Ali completed her first set of final exams during the fall semester because “we’re back on track after COVID.”

However, when she found out a few weeks ago that her governing body – the Ottawa Carleton District School Board – was canceling the final exams for students in grades 9 and 10, the young woman gave ‘ 15 years old had mixed feelings.

At first, “It was like a load was almost lifted off my shoulders,” Ali said. However, this soon gave way to new stress of writing exams with no experience in her 11th grade when post-secondary grades start counting.

Ali’s teachers eventually offered several summative assessments, including some written tests, along with a class debate in French and an essay and visual presentation for her history class. She appreciated her approach but says she doesn’t feel as prepared for the future as students who have experience writing exams.

“It also gives them an 11th grade advantage, which I think can cause variations between … school boards, like on grades, percentages and grades,” she said.

Ali doesn’t think final exams are always the best or only way to measure student learning, but she wants to see consistency. “If there is such a standard [for having final exams]… then everyone should do them.”

Tasha Ausman (Gatineau, Que.)

Tasha Ausman teaches math and science at a high school in Gatineau, Que. (Photo by Van Tran)

Quizzes, tests and exams show how students perform in “high-stress exam contexts,” but relying on these alone simply rewards students who perform well in these circumstances unique, says high school math and science teacher Tasha Ausman on the Western Quebec School Board and part-time professor of curriculum studies at the University of Ottawa.

She described a lively discussion taking place today between teachers, teacher trainees and educational researchers examining the complexities of assessment and how to ensure that the methods used “provide a really resilient picture of what students know and what they can make a multitude of performance records, with something like a final exam being just one piece of the puzzle.”

CLOCK | With the return of exams for some students, the debate about their value in the assessment of learning also begins:

High schools face test anxiety after years of pandemic teaching

Some high school students are anxiously preparing to take exams for the first time as many schools suspended testing during the height of the pandemic. It sparked a debate among educators about whether exams are really the best way to grade students.

As provincial ministries and departments of education work to update K-12 assessment to provide a “full picture of the student,” she said, and while there is a trend toward more formative, based types of assessments on projects and not testing for college. students, changes take time.

Most students today face tests, Ausman noted, whether they are standardized tests, entrance tests for a particular degree program, or various high-interest tests that come after high school — whether they choose to study, to enter college or university.

“The whole system doesn’t rewrite itself right away,” she said.

Louis Volante (St. Catharines, Ont.)

“The fact is, high school students need to be prepared to write and pass the exams,” because many will go to postsecondary college where they will inevitably, says Louis Volante, professor of education at the University of Brock. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

What’s needed is better alignment between what’s happening at the high school level and with college and university freshmen and sophomores, “because those tend to be the hardest years when it comes to things like test anxiety,” said education researcher and Louis Volante, Professor. at Brock University.

“It is in the higher grades – 11 and 12 – when those grades count for admissions and the freshmen and sophomores who are at greater risk of academic failure,” he said.

There needs to be more consistency and updates to the provincial assessment frameworks that govern how high school students are assessed “so that there is a common metric and structure that they experience,” said Volante, a professor of education at St. Catharines, Ontario, School. and President of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education.

Without these, he added, the situation remains a double-edged sword: both for unprepared students who struggle after attending secondary school, and for those who are not admitted in the first place due to stricter assessment that has left it. with lower degrees.

“The fact is that high school students need to be prepared to write and pass exams and have those kinds of skills because they will inevitably be writing… a lot of traditional paper tests and pencil [in post-secondary],” he said.


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