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Pencils down: planned provincial high school exams cancelled for next year

Grade 10 and 12 provincial exams have been called off for next year.

Manitoba Education’s newest project suggests supporters of timed and anxiety-inducing exams have lost the latest tug-of-war over the provincewide assessment program.

The NDP government informed superintendents and private school principals last week that it is overhauling the testing schedule and cancelling standardized high school exams starting in 2024-25, as the work gets underway.

Deputy education minister Brian O’Leary penned a letter to stakeholders Thursday to outline the “comprehensive review and redevelopment” initiative.

The project will ensure the local assessment program is aligned with “evolving best practices, supports student learning and well-being, and is responsive to the needs of the education system,” O’Leary said in the Feb. 28 memo.

The Education Department wants to move testing to an online platform and bolster the tracking of cohorts from kindergarten through high school, he said.

The work is expected to take multiple years.

Existing early and middle years formative assessments will continue during the review process. The department will also keep collecting Grade 9 English language arts and mathematics credit attainment and graduation data.

The changes do not affect Manitoba’s participation in pan-Canadian and international tests.

Both of Jim Harris’s adult children graduated Grade 12 during the exam hiatus brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harris said the two high-achievers were unprepared for university exams as a result, and he fears an end to high-stakes testing will put future graduates at a similar disadvantage.

His eldest’s experience led his other child to enrol in a post-secondary prep course.

Some secondary schools offer International Baccalaureate and advancement placement courses, although these specialty offerings have dwindled, owing to budget constraints.

“Is the curriculum and is the way that we’re assessing kids preparing them for post-secondary — for those kids who want to do post-secondary?” he said.

“Or are we creating a system where, in order for kids to be prepared for post-secondary, they have to do IB or AP?”

Kelvin High School and Collège Louis-Riel are the only two public high schools in Winnipeg offering IB in 2023-24.

Winnipeg School Division chief superintendent Matt Henderson said he wants to reframe public perceptions of enrichment programs and assessment.

“We really want to get away from this idea that there are academic programs and non-academic programs; all of our high schools should have the highest quality programming,” said Henderson. “Every child deserves enrichment.”

On the subject of provincial testing, Henderson said he would like to see updates that require students to demonstrate their ability to think critically, historically and in a sophisticated manner, and communicate their role within a democracy.

“A good, rigorous assessment will allow a learner not only to say how smart they are, but how they are smart,” he said.

As far as he is concerned, provincial exams, as is, do not allow for the latter.

PC education critic Wayne Ewasko was not made available for an interview Monday.

Prior to the Oct. 3 election, Manitoba Education — under the leadership of Ewasko, then-education minister — was gearing up to introduce a mandatory exam for all Grade 10 students and resume Grade 12 provincial tests this school year.

The Grade 10 exams were being introduced to allow teachers to measure progress and address any issues over the following two years prior to graduation.

The NDP pivoted and piloted the wide-ranging assessments for 10th graders in late November.

The change was announced in response to teacher and school leader concerns that the rollout was rushed and disorganized.

Participation was optional and the results did not affect student marks.

The weight of Grade 12 provincial exams was reduced.

Final-year students completed the first batch of these tests (now worth 20 per cent of a student’s final grade in language arts and mathematics courses) in late January for the first time since 2020.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press