Authentic for Some, Standard for English

This morning’s tweet from the BC School Superintendents’ Association’s meeting in Kelowna by Chris Kennedy, Superintendent/CEO of the West Vancouver School District, was the first I saw regarding the decision of the Ministry of Education to eliminate optional provincial exams in BC. Soon after, the Ministry’s press release publicized the decision.

Frankly, I’m not surprised by the news. Once the exams were made optional and universities began to drop them from admission criteria, the writing was on the wall. There should be no doubt that this is of benefit to students. Without the pressure of a 40% weighted standardized test, classroom teachers are freed to be creative in both their delivery of curriculum and the assessment of the learning outcomes. All in all, a win for the BC education system.

What concerns me though is the continuation of the grade 10 and 11 exams and the English 12 provincial, as well as the strengthened ‘link’ between scholarship provisions and these exams.

As an English teacher for many years, I am demoralized by this news. Since the English 10 provincial (which rose from the ashes of the grade 10 FSA) is worth 20% and the English 12 provincial is 40% of a student’s grade in those years, for a student’s three senior years of English Language Arts, an average of 20% of their grade in those three years comes from two separate three hour, high stake tests.

My school has worked hard as an English department with our teacher-librarian to make assessment relevant and meaningful to our senior English students. Our grade 11 exam is an amazing piece of cumulative work in which students get to show their passion for a topic and the skills they have learned all year. Next year, we are even taking it a step further and making it into an electronic portfolio. This is, to me, true learning. With our English 11 exam the students demonstrate their completion of the learning outcomes with a commitment that I have rarely seen in any classroom assignment. It is one of the best exercises any member of our department does in any of our courses precisely because the students are empowered to drive their own education.

That is exactly what is missing from the provincial exam process. The fact that a 20% average of each year of my students’ senior English grades is determined in only 6 hours of standardized testing is appalling to me as a professional who believes passionately in authentic assessment and has seen the benefits of such assessments to her students.

When you add in to this mix the increased weight of these exams on a student’s chance for a scholarship, my disenchantment with the graduation program is deepened. The Ministry’s release does not reveal how the scholarships will be determined other than to state, “scholarship criteria will shift to focus on students’ performance in grades 10, 11 and 12 required provincial exams.”. Not only will I still be preparing students for standardized tests in two out of their three senior high school years, but now these exams will be even more firmly determining whether or not my students will receive scholarships.

So although I welcome the Ministry’s decision to end the optional exams, I am left wondering, when will the English teachers too see the end of standardized testing in their classrooms?

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