St. Albert students and teachers were skeptical this week about the province’s plan to switch to digital exams by 2019.
A recent annual report from Alberta Education revealed that the province was working on a new online assessment application for student learning assessments, provincial achievement tests and diploma exams.
In 2013, the province announced plans to offer digital diploma exams by this year. Those plans ran aground when the program used for those tests, Quest A+, crashed in 2015, forcing about 8,000 students to go back to pen and paper.
Quest A+ has since been used for the written response portions of social and language arts exams and can handle about 4,000 students at once, said Alberta Education chief of staff Jeremy Nolais in a phone and email interview. The province is spending about $12.6 million to develop a new program that can handle more. The program is similar to the one used for the Grade 3 learning assessments, and was run through about 40,400 mock diploma exams this year as a test.
The plan is to have Grade 12 exams available digitally by November 2018, with Grade 9 achievement tests to follow in January 2019 and Grade 6 tests by June 2019.
“We’re not saying you can’t have paper,” Nolais said, as students could still take the exam on paper on request.
The new exams are meant to reflect modern times where many students prefer to type instead of write and to interact with on-screen material instead of paper booklets, Nolais said.
The digital tests will coincide with the return of written response questions for math exams in November 2018, Nolais said. Alberta Education was still figuring out how to do such questions with an online exam.
The tests will also come with new freedoms around when schools can conduct them, Nolais said. While schools will still have to hold diploma exams on a set date (as they’re important for grades and you don’t want students sharing answers), as of next year, schools will have one week in which to hold written provincial achievement tests in Grade 6 and 9 and three weeks to do multiple choice ones.
Paul Kane summer school student Hayley Anderson was ambivalent about the new digital tests when told of them.
“I prefer to write rather than type,” Anderson said, but she also knew of students who had to read their responses to teachers due to bad handwriting. She was also concerned that computer access could make it easier to cheat. Still, she appreciated that she would have the option to stick with paper.
Paul Kane teacher Brandon Andreychuk was also skeptical of digital exams, noting that some students liked having a physical booklet to flip through and make notes on. Digital exams could make marking written response questions tricky, as you’d either have to print everything or have a hundred-odd computers for the hundred-odd evaluators.
“What do you do if the Internet is not working?” he asked.
The province should thoroughly test this new digital system before implementing it, and have a backup plan in place, Andreychuk said.
“It’s simple and safe to have paper copies.”
Over a thousand St. Albert students headed back to class this week for the start of summer school.
Roughly 1,600 students are now taking summer school classes at Bellerose, Paul Kane, Sainte Marguerite d’Youville and Morinville Community High, say school officials.
Most students do summer school to get ahead or buff up their marks for post-secondary, said Bellerose summer school principal Kelly Lajoie.
Daniel Ward said he was taking English 30-1 at Bellerose this summer so he’d have more time to focus on other classes next year.
“Honestly, I didn’t think (summer school) would be a good idea, but now I look back on it and wish I’d done it every year,” he said.
Many students will take the combination phys-ed/CALM course to get those mandatory items out of the way, Lajoie said. That course runs for 8.5 hours a day six days a week.
“The bulk of my school is here until 4:30 every day,” she said.
Summer school courses run until the end of July, with final exams in early August. Visit summerschool.gsacrd.ab.ca, pkhs.spschools.org, or bchs.spschools.org for details.