Alberta math, science exams to be multiple choice

Alberta has dropped the handwritten portions of Grade 12 diploma exams in math and science, making the tests entirely multiple choice.

Alberta has dropped the handwritten portions of Grade 12 diploma exams in math and science, making the tests entirely multiple choice.

The change to exams in math, applied math, chemistry, biology, physics and science takes effect immediately.

Education Minister Dave Hancock said assessments of the tests showed students scored much the same on the written portion as on the multiple-choice tests.

The change will save $1.7 million each year in printing and marking expenses. The Alberta government has cut this year's education budget by $80 million.

"That shortens the exam period by two and a half days," Hancock said. "It gives more instructional time in the school, it reduces exam anxiety and also reduces the need to draw teachers out of the school at that particular period of time to do marking."

Hancock said the exams are only worth half the final mark so classroom teachers can still assess the students' ability to work out an answer.  

"There's room for classroom assessment by teachers in the classroom working with the students who can have a direct one-on-one and understand the skills and ability that student has."

Educators question switch

Grade 12 math and science exams in Alberta will now be made up entirely of multiple choice questions. (CBC)
 Critics question the value of multiple choice exams, however,

Jenny Regal of the Calgary Alberta Teachers Association said some students might not do as well on the new exams because the ability to get partial marks on an answer is gone.

"We teach that beginning in elementary. It's not just about the answer, it's about how you get there," she said.

"I would suggest there are better ways of finding $1.7 million in an entire government's budget than to remove that one portion of the diploma exams where the students can truly show how they can figure things out and get partial marks for what they know."

Regal said she's worried the next generation of scientists and mathematicians won't be able to communicate to others how they arrive at their answers.

Alberta is making its science exams even worse just to save money, said Jim Field, a University of Calgary education professor.

Science is fundamentally about "curiosity and wonderment," he said, and multi-choice exams can't measure those qualities.

"What I worry about is a curriculum that shifts away from thinking and from imagination to memorize, regurgitate, [and] move on," he said.

"What gets assessed is what gets taught .… That's what schools are going to do. They are going to jump though the hoop. If the hoop is small, then what they're going to do to jump through the hoop is small."

The provincial education department gave CBC News conflicting information about how much money the change would save each year, at first saying $1.7 million, then $3.4 million and later reverting back to the first figure.

Corrections

  • The provincial Education Department originally told CBC News that the change would save $1.7 million a year, then revised that figure to say it would save $3.4 million a year. Later, the department reverted to the first figure, $1.7 million.
    Sep 21, 2009 11:06 AM MT