At our September 22th board meeting, I served notice of motion to advocate for suspending diploma exams and Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) for the 2020-2021 school year. This will come for a vote at the EPSB October 6th board meeting.
I believe this is an important piece of advocacy for our board, as the ongoing pandemic has caused significant disruptions to the current school year, which has resulted in many changes to learning environments, instruction, and additional stress on students, staff and families.
For instance, to begin this school year, EPSB has seen the following large-scale changes due to the pandemic:
- almost 30% of our students are now learning online.
- students attending school in-person are subject to health measures such as masks, hygiene and cleaning protocols, and classes grouped into cohorts.
- EPSB and other divisions have moved to a quarter system for high school classes, resulting in condensed course content.
- instruction has been changed to be more consistent in the event that schools move to a hybrid or online scenario due to changes in the pandemic.
- the identification of cases and outbreaks in schools has resulted in large numbers of students and staff sent home to self-isolate.
- there are increasing absences of students and staff due to self-isolation requirements when sick, resulting in missed instruction and changes in teachers.
- there is an overall increase in stress and anxiety of day-to-day life that the pandemic has caused for families, including economic uncertainty, changes to routines, availability of childcare and the stress and uncertainty of a pandemic.
In the past, when large scale disruptions have occurred, the province has cancelled provincial exams. Diploma exams and PATs were suspended at the end of the 2019-2020 school year when in-person classes were cancelled. Diploma exams were also not required during the Calgary floods in 2013, and Fort McMurray fires in 2016. I believe these were prudent measures to prioritize safety, well-being and learning during difficult times.
In normal years, diploma exams and PATs can offer useful information about achievement, but in a year of such significant change and disruption, the scores on these exams are less useful because it will be unclear how the factors above will impact student performance, and there will be no way to determine if any one or a combination of these factors have impacted the score.
In addition, diploma exams (and PATs) can cause stress for students and I worry about the stress levels for grade 12 students who have been sent home to self-isolate during a shortened quarter. I do not believe these students should have the additional stress of worrying about how the disruption to their learning may impact their performance on diploma exams when we know that it is possible for post-secondary institutions to rely on teacher-awarded marks, as this has been done during previous systemic disruptions.
With almost 30% of EPSB students learning online and up to 12% of our schools identifying cases of COVID in the first month of operation, I believe that now more than ever, we need to prioritize student, staff and family health and well-being, and a love of learning. I do not believe that provincial exams will provide much useful information for the system this year, and suspending these exams may allow for less stress across our provincial education system. This school year, we need to spend our time and resources prioritizing well-being and learning.
I look forward to debating this motion with my colleagues next week.