Only some students were allowed to use digital tool during Quebec ministry exam

·3 min read
Last fall, the Education Ministry said that Usito could be used during the French exam, but only by students who used it “regularly” during the school year. (Diego Cervo/Shutterstock - image credit)
Last fall, the Education Ministry said that Usito could be used during the French exam, but only by students who used it “regularly” during the school year. (Diego Cervo/Shutterstock - image credit)

Not all Secondary 5 students took last Thursday's French ministerial exams according to the same rules, Radio-Canada has learned.

According to Radio-Canada, some classes were only allowed to use a print dictionary for the exam while others were allowed to use the digital dictionary Usito. Unlike other dictionaries, it describes the French particular to Quebec.

The dictionary was developed by the University of Sherbrooke and funded by the provincial government, and is considered "more efficient" than traditional dictionaries, said Julien Bureau, a professor of education sciences at Université Laval.

"At equal levels of knowledge, [the digital dictionary] is really more practical: the digital tool is really versatile," he said.

The user only has to type a word into a search bar to check its spelling, and the tool makes suggestions in real time, offering synonyms, related words alongside verb conjugations.

But not everyone was allowed to use it. Last fall, the Education Ministry said that Usito could be used during the French exam, but only by students who already used it "regularly" during the school year. Students who were not familiar with Usito before were not able to use it.

The situation created discrepancies even within organizations.

Parent decries a 'two-tier' system

At the Centre de services scolaire des Découvreurs (CSSDD), which operates four high schools in the greater Quebec City region, only nine classes were allowed to use Usito.

"There is no prejudice for the students, as long as they have the same conditions during the ministerial test that they had during the learning and evaluations during the year," said Marie-Ève Malouin, a spokesperson for the CSSDD.

At the Centre de services scolaire de la Capitale (CSSC), which also operates in and around Quebec City, those with learning difficulties did not get access to the virtual dictionary as a result.

In an exchange of emails, obtained by Radio-Canada, the father deplored the "two-tier system" for the exam. His daughter, who has attention deficit disorder, struggled with spelling, but the school said her difficulties did not justify granting her permission to use the virtual dictionary.

According to Bureau, the education professor, the ministry authorizing different tools for the exam isn't in and of itself an issue.

"The problem here is that some people were prevented from having access to a tool that was considered permitted and acceptable for the exam," he said.

He said that from an "equitable point of view," the person doing the exam should be able to choose from the tools approved for use.

In a statement, the Education Ministry said it didn't have any data about how many students had used the digital dictionary in their exams last week. The use of the web-based dictionary also doesn't give certain students an edge in the exam, the ministry said.

"According to a study conducted on the use of digital dictionaries following the June 2019 Secondary 5 French test, it appears that the use of the digital dictionary does not constitute an advantage for student success," it wrote.

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