COVID-19: Edmonton school trustee pushes to suspend provincial achievement and diploma exams

There is a growing push to have Provincial Achievement Tests and diploma exams suspended for the 2020-21 school year — the latest coming from Edmonton Public School Board trustee Shelagh Dunn.

After hearing concerns from students, Dunn put forward a motion to the school board to advocate for the provincial government cancelling those exams. It will be voted on Oct. 6.

“This is an important piece of advocacy for our board, as the ongoing pandemic has caused significant disruptions to the current school year,” Dunn wrote in her blog.

Read more: Coronavirus: What schools in Alberta have COVID-19 outbreaks

Dunn told Global News there are many factors playing into stress levels right now.

“I’ve actually been hearing from high school students from Edmonton public schools talking about the stress of the disruptions and then thinking ahead and writing diploma exams,” she said.

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“[At] Edmonton public, we’re seeing almost 30 per cent of students online. We’ve never seen anyone like that before. Twelve per cent of our schools have seen COVID cases or outbreaks. You can imagine the disruptions that causes and then the number of absences that are happening due to self-isolation and illness.”

Alberta Teachers Association president Jason Schilling said cancelling exams would be a good move.

“I definitely think that we need to relieve the pressure in the system and this is one simple way that we could do that. Teachers can focus on increasing mental health supports within classrooms,” he said.

Colin Aitchison, the press secretary for the education minister, said in a statement: “As we developed our school re-entry plan, we heard very clearly that parents wanted a return to regular assessment for their children.

“In fact, a survey conducted by the Alberta School Councils’ Association found that 64 per cent of parents surveyed favoured a return to regular assessment, including diploma exams, for the 2020-21 school year. That said, we are always exploring options to make this return to in-person learning as smooth as possible and we will make adjustments to the school re-entry plan as required.”

That survey included 66,320 parents in Alberta and closed May 18. Dunn thinks feelings toward exams have changed since then.

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“I don’t think anyone could have foreseen how all of these changes added together would really impact stress levels. I think we might be seeing something that is a little bit unexpected,” Dunn said.

Some students told Global News that they were feeling more stressed out this year compared to other years.

“The test and everything [is] a lot harder for us because there is so much to learn, so I think having a diploma a month from now I don’t think would really be worth it,” Grade 12 student Declan Golberg said.

“If we even miss one day, we aren’t going to be in the best position,” said Grade 12 student Zion Preddy.

There are some students who want the chance to write exams.

“It just seems that we have been preparing for diplomas our whole school life, so it’s just something we think is going to happen,” Grade 12 student Harriet Hollinghurst said. “I think it’s a good chance to apply to university. I think we should still have them.”

“Anything the school tells me to do I will do, as long as I get my diploma at the end of the year,” Grade 12 student Alex Al-Tawil said.

Earlier this month, students in Vauxhall, Alta., wrote to their MLAs and the education minister, asking for diploma exams to be reconsidered this year because of the pandemic.

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Read more: Southern Alberta students protest diploma exams during COVID-19

An online petition has also been created.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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