Diploma exam changes will more accurately assess student learning

STAR Catholic pleased with weighting for high school diploma exams.

Submitted by Dan Svitch

For teachers, parents and school communities it is our honour to be given the privilege of preparing future generations for the world they will inherit upon their graduation.

Creating the best environment in which to foster excellence and achievement is a firm commitment of STAR Catholic Schools. And, we believe that environment was made even better by a Government of Alberta announcement on March 16, 2015, that informed Albertans of forthcoming changes in the weighting of grade 12 diploma exams.

In the past, diploma exams were weighted 50/50 in combination with in-class teacher assessments, the combined grade making up a student’s final mark. Education Minister Gordon Dirks announced that starting September 2015, diploma exams will be worth 30 per cent of a student’s final mark, putting a greater weighting of 70 per cent on the teachers’ in-class assessments. The changes will be made to all core subjects in which provincial diploma exams are written — Math, Science, English and Social.

This is an issue in which STAR Catholic has taken a lead advocacy role, and one we know will result in a more accurate reflection of a student’s knowledge and skills in a subject area.  The move follows on the Alberta School Boards Association’s (ASBA) decision at their most recent Annual General Meeting to go on public record as supporting the 30/70 reweighting of diploma level courses. In fact, it was STAR Catholic Schools that put the ASBA motion forward, and we were very pleased to see the overwhelming majority support it received from other school boards across the province.

Learning is so much more than simply recalling facts and figures, names and dates. Although that has a proper place, successful learning includes the development of skills needed to thrive as an adult. Those skills, which are not always best or readily assessed on a diploma exam include: collaboration, innovation, communication, critical thinking and problem-solving, and the ability to present and represent complex ideas to others. Those competencies are acquired in day to day pursuits of the classroom, and are valuable to a student’s education and the creation of a 21st century Alberta.

In examining the vision of Inspiring Education (the government’s long-term vision for Alberta’s education system), the shift in weighting of the diploma exams is better aligned with the spirit of empowerment and trust that underwrites that vision. It speaks to the confidence we have in the teachers who work with our children on a daily basis, as being the professionals best equipped and positioned to accurately assess a student’s understanding and mastery of the curriculum.

To be clear, modifying the diploma exam weighting does not lower the bar of expectations. In fact, 30 per cent is still a very substantial portion of a student’s final mark. Instead, the modification represents a more appropriate reflection of what a student actually knows and is able to do. Alberta is proud of its reputation across Canada and internationally as an educational leader and we are certain that reputation will only continue to flourish and be improved upon.

At STAR Catholic Schools, we aim to grow a student in body, mind and spirit. The change to diploma exams aligns with those values, as a student is still expected to perform well on a standardized test, but knows that the hard work and academic achievement they put forth throughout the year carries genuine value.


Dan Svitich dan.svitich@starcatholic.ab.ca is a Ponoka Trustee on the STAR Catholic Schools Division Board.  STAR Catholic Schools has more than 3,300 students in 10 schools located in Beaumont, Drayton Valley, Leduc, Lacombe, Ponoka and Wetaskiwin.