Deputy Education Minister Brian O’LearyMike Deal / Free Press files

Manitoba exams are being reinstated in response to public outcry over the government’s plans to scrap standardized tests.

Superintendents and private school principals received a letter on Feb. 28 informing them Grade 10 and 12 provincial exams were being called off as the NDP government began reviewing and redeveloping the annual assessment schedule.

Deputy education minister Brian O’Leary issued a “revised direction” Monday.

O’Leary told stakeholders the initial memo had sparked concern among caregivers who feared halting the end-of-semester tradition — in particular, at the final-year level — would disadvantage graduates pursuing post-secondary studies.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s university or skilled trades,” said Shelley Shepherd, who is among the parents celebrating the U-turn. “Written exams are required and learning how-to write those exams and prepare for those exams in a safe and caring high school environment is critical.”

The mother of two said it has been difficult to watch her eldest, who graduated in 2022, grapple with the transition to university because the COVID-19 pandemic prompted an exam hiatus during her final years of high school.

Grade 12 provincial exams — a longstanding requirement in senior mathematics, English and French courses — resumed in late January for the first time in four years. Elected officials have repeatedly flip-flopped over their fate since the sudden cancellation of exams in March 2020.

Their Grade 10 predecessor has yet to be fully implemented; it is being designed to allow teachers to measure strengths and weaknesses and address them over the following two years prior to graduation.

Education Minister Nello Altomare told the Free Press he was regretful about not having spent more time working on the file before cancelling systemwide exams for next year.

Asked about his initial motivation, Altomare said Manitoba Education’s capacity has been “greatly diminished” in recent years and he is concerned about that.

“I have to weigh those concerns with the parent concerns,” the retired principal said, noting his office also heard from the post-secondary sector.

He added: “We do want to modernize assessment. Assessment in this province hasn’t been really looked at for the past 20 years and that’s also concerning to me. We’re here now. We need to get the work done and to ensure that the assessments that we do (administer) are reflective of what kids are learning in school and getting them ready for whatever post-secondary they do.”

The PC education critic, who was the education minister prior to the 2023 election, called his successor’s initial directive “an absolute wrong-headed move” and categorized the reversal as “good news” for parents and students alike.

“Exams are critical to ensuring Manitoba students are improving their math, science, and reading skills, and ready for the real world,” said Wayne Ewasko, interim leader of the official Opposition, in a statement.

Ewasko, a former teacher, did a similar 180 on the continuation of Grade 12 exams this time last year.

Provincial and school board officials have been grappling with a testing tug-of-war in the wake of the pandemic.

COVID-19 heightened concerns about student well-being and there’s been a subsequent shift from assigning high stakes, anxiety-inducing tests at the school level. At the same time, testing traditionalists have been lobbying for the return of systemwide exams.

As far as Shepherd is concerned, students benefit in the long term when they get exam experience.

“Life is full of adversity and if we don’t teach kids how to deal with adversity in smaller settings with people who care about them and care what happens to them, then when they get out into the real world, that adversity just becomes exponentially greater,” the mother of two said.

Nathan Martindale, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, said in a statement the union looks forward to participating in ongoing consultations about changes to the assessment program.

Altomare said there is no firm timeline for the official rollout of Grade 10 assessments. These tests were introduced via optional pilot in the fall.

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 12, 2024 at 06:38

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Winnipeg, Manitoba
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