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Pandemic prompts some Ontario boards to scrap plans for high school final exams this year

Pandemic prompts some Ontario boards to scrap plans for high school final exams this year-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Grade 11 students Vanessa Trotman, 15, and Lucas Provias, 16, walk in a hallway at Wexford Collegiate School for Arts in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

 

Some Ontario school boards, including several in the Greater Toronto Area, will not hold final exams for high school students this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB), for example, has decided there will be no final exams for its quadmester 1 and 2 classes, but it has not yet made a decision for its quadmester 3 and 4 classes, according to TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird.

Final marks for quadmester 1 and 2 will be based on coursework and an in-class end-of-quadmester assessment, he said.

Bird said the TDSB chose to cancel exams “given the exceptional circumstance with the pandemic and the complexities of running exams in both a virtual and in-person setting.”

According to the TDSB, the Ontario Ministry of Education has told school boards that they can remove designated exam days from their school year calendar and use them for in-class instructional time.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), for its part, said the ministry indicated in a memo last week that it would be up to the boards themselves to determine whether to require a 30 per cent final evaluation as part of a final mark and whether an exam needs to be part of that final evaluation.

“We have decided to maintain the 70/30 split between course work and the final evaluation. Although schools may decide to have exams for all courses, it is not required,” the board said in an email.

The TCDSB has decided its “culminating task” may be a combination of exam, performance or essay.

The Peel District School Board, meanwhile, will also not be holding final exams. The announcement was made in its Reopening Plans Family Guide, shared with families at the start of the school year.

As for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, its students will be doing “culminating performance tasks” instead of exams this year.

Masks in school-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
The Ontario Education Ministry says it has decided that more flexibility is needed this school year. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for the Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said the province has decided more flexibility is needed this school year.

Not ‘pedagogy as usual’ during pandemic, advocate says

“In a year truly like no other, our government has consistently demonstrated flexibility and adaptiveness to the impacts of a global pandemic on our education system,” Clark said in an email on Tuesday.

“One area where we heard the need for flexibility is in the type of assessment that teachers could use in determining students’ final grades, including the requirement for a 30 per cent final evaluation,” she added.

“Given the multiple different timetable structures and course structures that boards and teachers are using across the province — and not to mention the potential that some students have faced in the event of shifting from in-person to remote learning (or vice versa) — it is fundamentally in the students’ best interests to maximize instructional time and provide a diversity of assessment opportunities.”

Clark said a “diversity of assessment opportunities” may mean an extended essay or report, as opposed to a single exam for 30 per cent of the grade, which would enable students to demonstrate what they have learned in class.

“We will continue to demonstrate flexibility and raise these important pedagogical and operational developments in our ongoing discussions with our labour partners, of which this item was discussed multiple times prior to its implementation.”

Annie Kidder, executive director of the advocacy group People for Education, said it’s not “pedagogy as usual” this year and final exams may not be appropriate given the total length of time that students are spending in class.

“I hope we are learning from this and I hope that allows in new thinking about grades, about how we’re marking and about what we’re marking for,” Kidder said in an interview.

Annie Kidder, executive director of the advocacy group People for Education-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Annie Kidder, executive director of the advocacy group People for Education, says it’s not ‘pedagogy as usual’ this year and final exams may not be appropriate given the total length of time that students are spending in class. (Muriel Draaisma/CBC)

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