Grade 12 students across the province breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday after completing their provincial English exams.
Students who follow in their footsteps can now share that relief because they won’t have to write them at all.
The province’s Education Department is moving standardized testing for high school math and literacy from Grade 12 to Grade 10, beginning in the 2013-14 school year. In the 2012-13 school year, neither grade will have to write them.
That means students who will enter Grades 10, 11 and 12 this fall will never have to write the provincial exams, which have been a rite of passage for Grade 12 students in Nova Scotia for years.
A standardized test for literacy will also be shifted from Grade 9 to Grade 8, and the math assessment will be bumped up from the end of Grade 6 to the beginning. Both of those changes will take effect this September.
Jim Rice, the director of evaluation services for the province, said writing the tests earlier will allow students and teachers to identify weak spots and improve in those areas.
“In Grade 12, it’s all over for public school by that point,” Rice said in an interview Monday. “A student that’s in Grade 10 has some time to make use of that information to make choices and to devote the energy and time that’s necessary.”
The Chignecto-Central regional school board has conducted standardized tests in Grade 10 for the past seven years, Rice said. That board has the highest percentage of students who pass the Grade 12 exams as well as the highest average for the province.
“There’s really strong evidence that moving an exam to the Grade 10 year is helpful to both teachers and students in terms of improving their learning in the years that follow,” Rice said.
And there’s a lot of room for improvement. Just 52 per cent of students in the Mathematics 12 course passed the exam in the 2010-11 school year. Students in Advanced Mathematics 12 fared better, with 70 per cent achieving a passing grade.
Charles Cirtwill, president and CEO of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said adding a test in Grade 10 is not a bad idea, but without another exam in Grade 12, educators won’t be able to assess any improvements or failings.
“So you’ve identified the problem in Grade 10 and you spend a bunch of money or effort in the intervening years and you have no clue whether it worked or not,” he said.
Cirtwill also questioned the motivation for the changes, given the recent budget cuts to education.
“When you make a significant change in the funding, the best thing you can do is change the measures going forward so that they’re not comparable to the past,” he said.
“There’s no question that it’s going to be very I won’t say impossible, but it’s going to be considerably harder now to make direct comparisons between how well we did before the cuts and how well we do after.”
Standardized provincial exams comprise 30 per cent of a student’s final mark in the course, so the tests do affect final grades as students apply for post-secondary school.
However, the director of admissions for Dalhousie University said the tests don’t carry as much weight as some may believe.
“I think that increasingly, over the years, they’re playing less and less of a role in university admissions,” said Mairead Barry. “If you look at the Canadian context as a whole, there are fewer and fewer provinces that have standardized testing in the final year.”
Dal makes its admissions decisions in February or March, long before many students write their tests at the end of June. Test results could affect a student’s admission if he or she performs poorly on the exam, causing his or her grade to plummet, Barry said.
Moving the tests to Grade 10 would allow the university to evaluate all Nova Scotians equally, but Barry expressed concern that graduating students’ knowledge may not be up to par if they’re not tested in their final year.
“Right now, they’re sort of taught to the test,” she said. “I would hope that the same material, the same learning outcomes are being met regardless of whether there’s a provincial exam or not. I would hope that it would not affect that, but we won’t know until we see the results.”