Vast majority of Alberta high-school students not writing optional diploma exams

For the last two weeks, Alberta high school students have been writing diploma exams, but only if they want to.

Province says 6% chose to do the exams, while Calgary data shows even fewer in some subject areas

Data from the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District shows most students are not writing the optional exams this year. (CBC)

For the last two weeks, Alberta high school students have been writing diploma exams, but only if they want to.

Alberta Education has made the exams optional this school year, and the latest data shows the vast majority of students are not writing them.

The education minister's press secretary, Nicole Sparrow, said in an email that for the 2020/21 school year, approximately six per cent of students across the province chose to write the optional exams. 

Sparrow says this data does not include the January exam period, as some exams were still being written.

In Calgary, specifically, January numbers from the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) and the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) show even lower rates of exam writing in some subject areas.

Among students at both school boards, just 1.69 per cent wrote the Part A diploma exam in January for English 30 — a course that is needed to graduate high school.

When it came to January's social studies diploma exams, only 1.16 per cent of the students at both school boards took the Part A exam.

  •  Below is the data from CBE's January diploma period:

What students think

Hanson Feng, a Grade 12 at Sir Winston Churchill High School who is doing school online this year, told the Calgary Eyeopener that he decided against taking his diploma exam for a multitude of reasons.

"I simply wasn't ready for the diploma because we rushed through so much content because it was all squeezed in in a shorter period of time," he said.

"I was happy with the course mark and there was legitimately no purpose of me reading all of that content from September to review."

Juana Arturo, a Grade 12 at Notre Dame High School, says her grades tend to drop after diploma exams so that's why she, too, opted out this year.

"It's just like extra stress on my behalf and I just didn't want any part of that," she said.

  • Listen to the full interview below:

Arturo has applied for university next year and, despite not taking the big exam, she doesn't feel it makes her less prepared for post-secondary studies. 

"Online school teaches us so much about, like, self-discipline, managing your time," she said.

"Those are the only things you need to do good on exams, so I feel like I'm more than prepared for university in that sense."

Feng adds that he doesn't even agree with the concept of diploma exams. 

"I think standardized testing in general, it doesn't test your intelligence. It tests your wealth," he said. "Your ability to hire tutors and go to diploma-exam prep. And I don't think that's a fair assessment for students." 

Arturo says that, in her experience, teachers also seemed happy that exams weren't happening this year.

"It's like two-month semesters for me. How are they going to squish in, like what you're meant to learn in six months and teach a diploma on top of that?" she said.

"It's just so much stress on both sides."

With files from Danielle Nerman and Calgary Eyeopener.