The youngest students in Alberta's schools will get extra help with education basics while Grade 12 students are being offered some relief with final diploma exams — though they will still have to write them.
The Alberta government will spend up to $45 million supporting students in early elementary grades who have fallen behind during the COVID-19 pandemic, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said Wednesday.
The money, which had been previously announced in May, will be distributed on a $490-per-student basis for children who need extra help with numeracy or literacy skills, LaGrange told a news conference.
Some children, she added, will qualify for help in both areas. School boards will allocate the funding, she said.
LaGrange said the initial focus of the funding will be for students in grades 2 and 3, with targeted support for Grade 1 students to start in February.
"This will supplement the level of support offered to students by introducing new programming, [and] enhancing or extending supports."
The money could be used to create smaller group sizes, one-on-one teaching, hire more staff, add supports for teaching staff, implement new numeracy programming, or get parents more involved, she said.
"It is crucial to address learning challenges in the early years of a student's development. That's why I'm so pleased to be able to provide these supports at this time in the pandemic and as the pandemic continues to evolve."
LaGrange said input from the College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS) and educators highlighted that students in grades 1 to 3 were the most affected by the pandemic and are struggling to catch up.
The province is currently gathering more information on where to make further funding commitments, she said.
Diploma exam change
Meanwhile, Alberta Education has also decided to change the weighting of diploma exams from 30 per cent of a student's final mark to 10 per cent for the current school year,
The decision came in response to feedback from students, parents and others about stress and anxiety, LaGrange said.
Last school year, Alberta made diploma exams optional because of the interruptions to learning that the pandemic had caused. Students and educators recently urged the government to make both diploma exams and provincial achievement tests optional again this year.
LaGrange said reducing the exam's weighting is a move to ease stress but still provide students with "the crucial exam-writing experience they need — if they choose to go into post-secondary," she said.
"Diploma exams offer an exam-writing experience that our current Grade 12 students may not have had throughout their whole high school years," LaGrange said.
Many Grade 12 students have transitioned from in-class to online learning several times throughout the pandemic and some might not have written an exam at all, she added.
Letters have been sent from LaGrange and Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides to Alberta's post-secondary institutions advising of the change.
The provincial achievement tests will go ahead normally, LaGrange added.
Rapid test kits
CASS president Wilco Tymensen welcomed the new supports. Students in grades 1 to 3 have been heavily affected because those are the years when children develop their numeracy and writing skills, and many students in those groups need extra help, he said.
Lowering the weight of diploma exams will ease pressure on Grade 12 students preparing for post-secondary and allow them to focus on their learning, he said.
LaGrange also said Wednesday that at-home rapid test kits are now being provided at no cost to schools with kindergarten to Grade 6 students across the province that are on outbreak status.
Schools will provide students and staff who wish to participate with 10 tests to take home. They will be required to test twice weekly for five weeks.