Thursday, 16 May 2013 09:00

Gov’t announces big changes for students in Alberta high schools

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The Alberta government is moving to make a number of changes to the province’s high-school education system in the coming years.

By the fall of 2017, all high-school students will be able to write diploma exams in a digital format and have access to more exam sessions throughout the school year. Currently exams are only offered in January and June.
“I think this is a positive step forward for our students in Prairie Rose,” says Prairie Rose School Division (PRSD) Superintendent Doug Nicholls.
Piloting of electronic diploma exams, as well as an online system and digital marking, will begin the fall of 2014 with full implementation by 2017.
The move was made as part of the Inspiring Education framework that has been a work in progress the past five years.
“(Alberta Education) has a vision of any where, any time, any pace learning. This initiative is consistent with that,” says Nicholls. “It fits with the needs of the students and parents...”
Prairie Rose officials are interested to see if there will be any changes to how weighted the school awarded mark is in comparison with the diploma exam mark. Currently, each is worth 50 per cent.
“There has been some talk to determine whether 50-50 is an appropriate balance,” says Nicholls. “There is a concern by many that the 50-50 balance may be too top heavy on the one exam, on the one day.”
Educators have said they would prefer to see a 60/40 or 70/30 ratio where the semester-long class work is rated more heavily than the diploma exam.
Many high school students will also see more flexibility in their schedules starting this fall. More than 100 schools will remove the 25-hour requirement of face-to-face instruction per course credit.
“We are re-thinking and re-designing high school to provide flexibility for students and teachers,” said Education Minister Jeff Johnson, in a news release. “Linking credits to the time a kid spends sitting in a desk is too prescriptive for some high-school students, especially those who don’t require the full 25 hours of face-to-face instruction to master the curriculum.”
Piloted in 16 schools since 2009, the flex program allows students to work at their pace through a course, even beyond a scheduled semester, rather than receiving a failing grade and having to retake it.
“I think there is huge potential in this,” says Brian Andjelic, PRSD’s deputy superintendent. “We’ll need to talk to some schools and school systems to see how they developed this in their pilot projects.”
Andjelic adds PRSD officials will gather this research through the next year with implementation considered for September of 2014.
Also of benefit to Alberta high-school students will be the addition of more dual credit courses where students can earn credit toward their post-secondary educations. Students can already take some courses, such as welding, health sciences or culinary arts.
“This initiative is consistent (with what) Alberta Education wants teachers and school divisions to do,” says Nicholls. “It’s recognizing many students have strong skills in a variety of areas.”
There will be some challenges in implementing more dual-credit courses for high-school students. Nicholls points out school boards will have to come to a satisfactory agreement with post-secondary institutions on the extra costs of offering courses.
“All of this is designed to increase opportunities for students,” he adds. “We are excited about this and we expect Prairie Rose students to benefit in future years.”

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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