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Downsides of reducing provincial exams exceed upsides: UBC prof

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – There has been mixed reaction to yesterday’s announcement from the province that there will be a reduced number of provincial exams BC students will need to write to graduate.

It’s going from five exams to two, with only math and literacy assessed.

Charles Ungerleider, professor emeritus of Educational Studies at UBC, says students will likely welcome the change, as will some teachers, but adds, “I think the downsides of eliminating provincial exams far exceed the upside from the student standpoint.”

He points out provincial exams are set and marked by teachers.

“By eliminating the exams, you’re eliminating an important tool for ensuring equity across identifiable groups of students — Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal, English first language/English not first language, etc — because you no longer have a common benchmark against which to assess their performance and look at what factors under the control of students have an impact on that performance.”

Ungerleider says getting rid of exams will make it harder to determine the impact the new curriculum will have on student achievement.

“Exams also allow teachers to see if their standards are aligned with those of their colleagues — this will eliminate that for them. Exams also provide students and parents with confirmation of the students’ performance, independent of the teacher’s judgement — in other words, it’s against the common independent judgement — and for that matter, post-secondary education institutions, as well.”

He says he’s confused by the move from the province.

“Normally, when you introduce a new curriculum, you sometimes introduce new assessment tools to complement the new curriculum. But typically, you keep the old ones so that you make sure that you aren’t throwing the baby out with the bath water. So, you want to make sure that the new curriculum that you’re bringing in develops the kind of capacities and competencies that we expect students to have,” he explains.

Ungerleider argues that since we still expect kids to have knowledge in things like science, social studies and literature, it’s strange that exams have been eliminated in those areas.

However, he admits it’s too early to panic about the impact that these changes might have.

“I don’t think students will be ‘shafted.’ I do worry, however, that parents who are what I would call ‘hyper-concerned’ about their child’s education success may be prompted to leave the public system — which is an excellent system in British Columbia — for the private system.”

Curriculum changes take effect this fall. Beyond eliminating provincial exams, the province will also be reviewing report cards and in 2017-18 will require a “career education course” to graduate.

LISTEN: Charles Ungerleider speaks with anchors Brock Hunter and Sonia Aslam

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