Alberta School Boards Association suggests impact of diploma exams should be reduced

It’s an issue that every Grade 12 student faces in Alberta: an entire year of pressure leading up to exams. Diploma exams are worth 50 per cent of their final mark in a course, making the last year of high school a stressful one.

The encouragement to reduce the weight of the provincial diploma exams from 50 per cent to 30 per cent gained momentum earlier this week at the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) general meeting in Edmonton.

The motion to change the weight was first introduced by the Leduc Catholic School Division, with the support of the Edmonton Public School Board. Together they brought the issue to the attention of the ASBA.

At least one student will give a sigh of relief if the province adopts this initiative.

Gillian Firkola, a Grade 12 student at Notre Dame Collegiate in High River, completely agrees with lessening the impact of the diploma exams.

“The diplomas are really giving students too much stress because it’s worth half of your mark. As soon as you’re in high school it’s all that you’re reminded about,” says Firkola.The ASBA has voted in favor of lowering the diploma weight that may help students to feel less stressed throughout their school year.

Photo Credit: Victoria Stey

Instead, the curriculum could be better suited toward helping students learn, without the stress of knowing their future depends so much on one exam, she suggests.

Firkola wrote her biology diploma exam in June 2014 and found that she spent approximately 20 hours outside of class studying for the exam.

“And not to mention if you miss anything within the class you’re basically screwed,” adds Firkola. “And if you bomb the diploma you’re out of luck.”

Lowering the weight of the diploma exams would mean that the marks would have to be made up somewhere else. Firkola says she would rather have assignments worth more, so that if you mess up one there would be other assignments or projects you could do to make up the grade. Instead, students are feeling pressured to make sure they only do well on the diploma exam.

Currently there are extra programs students can take to help improve their studying for the exams, such as Rock the Diploma. Firkola says she would still consider attending these extra studying programs, as well as study the same amount, even if the diploma exam weight is lowered.

Although diploma exams usually test for Grade 12 students’ preparedness for post-secondary, according to Firkola, they’re written in the same format as tests given throughout the year. The diplomas, however, contain more content and time constrictions.

“The diplomas are really giving students too much stress because it’s worth half of your mark. As soon as you’re in high school it’s all that you’re reminded about,”

-Gillian FirkolaAlice MacKichan, director of admissions and recruitment at Mount Royal University, said in an email that when it comes to final marks, they only use the official final grade that appears on the Alberta Education official transcript.

“Regardless of how the grade is determined by Alberta Education, we would continue to use the official final grade that they provide to us,” says MacKichan.

The Calgary Board of Education’s chair, Joy Bowen-Eyre, declined an interview before the ASBA meeting, but issued a statement that the division has based its decision on this topic in the best interest of students and their success.

Although the final decision now rests upon the province, Firkola says she does feel that by the ASBA voting to have the weight of the diploma exams lowered, it shows that they are paying attention to the best interests of the students by decreasing their stress levels. One test shouldn’t play such a major role in determining your future, she says.

“Diplomas suck, really. They are hard, challenging, stressful and make you feel pressured to do amazing,” says Firkola.