VICTORIA — British Columbia's Education Ministry has agreed to apologize and compensate students harmed by incorrect provincial exam results last year.
An investigation released Thursday by provincial ombudsperson Jay Chalke found the ministry's communication with students and their families to be misleading and in some cases inaccurate even after the errors were identified.
His office has made six recommendations that include identifying affected students and establishing a compensation program for those who lost money.
"Any of us can imagine the unpleasant surprise of seeing final exam marks that were wildly different than what a student might have expected," Chalke said in an interview.
"I'm cautiously encouraged that the ministry has agreed to all the recommendations and we'll be monitoring to make sure they live up to those promises."
Grade 12 students intending to enter Canadian universities in the fall are often accepted based on marks that only reflect their first two terms of Grade 12 work, however that can change depending on final marks.
The ministry posted more than 18,000 incorrect exam scores, roughly half of which were lower than they should have been, says the 49-page investigative report.
At least one student celebrated because they would graduate with friends only to learn they failed and wouldn't graduate, the report says.
The investigation found a series of unclear, inaccurate and misleading statements in the wake of the errors.
Over the course of several days, the ministry was slow to advise the public of the nature and scope of the errors and gave overly broad assurances that the situation was fully in-hand, Chalke said.
For example, the report highlights a ministry news release that suggested that post-secondary institutions throughout North America had provided assurances that students would not be impacted, when in fact only the University of British Columbia had done so.
Families were not informed for several days after the ministry learned of the errors and they continued to order incorrect transcripts, Chalke said.
Many families would have been reassured by the ministry's misleading statements and therefore wouldn't have taken action to protect their own interests, he said.
The investigation focused on the ministry's action, so it's unclear how many admission offers would have been affected by the errors.
The probe also did not tabulate the costs incurred by students, instead tasking the ministry with doing that work. However, as an example, Chalke said a student who flew to their second-choice university because they didn't think they got in to their first-choice should have those flight costs reimbursed.
"Ministry staff worked quickly and diligently to correct the tabulation errors and that was positive but, when the government makes a mistake, good public administration demands more," Chalke said in a news release.
"Not only does the technical error need to be fixed but the potential impact on people needs to be addressed. When government makes a mistake, it needs to put things right."
The ministry thanked Chalke in a statement and said it has learned from the experience.
"We know this situation was stressful for students and their parents when it happened," the ministry said.
Four of the six recommendations made by Chalke's office have already been implemented, including an update of processes for calculating test scores and releasing transcripts, it said.
The ministry said no complaints or follow-up requests have been received since August 2019.
In a letter responding to the ombudsperson, the ministry said it will address compensation by the end of this year.
"Upon the safe restart of B.C. schools, we will shift our resources to addressing this recommendation on the timeline noted," the letter says.
The investigation found that two tabulation errors resulted in the ministry posting incorrect exam results for three language arts exams.
The first error occurred when staff used the wrong format to enter the minimum and maximum percentage scores. Students who scored at the ends of the spectrum, receiving letter grades of A and F, were most greatly affected.
The second error occurred when staff included a non-standard format exam, such as Braille or large print, in a data file. It created a blank space that meant the software read anything entered after the space incorrectly.
— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 20, 2020.
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said five exams were affected.