Manitoba government wisely reverses course on plan to scrap exams

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Appeared in the Winnipeg Sun, March 14, 2024
Manitoba government wisely reverses course on plan to scrap exams

Two weeks ago, the Kinew government told school superintendents and principals that it plans to cancel grade 10 and 12 provincial high school exams—and consequently, deprive parents, students, teachers and policymakers of valuable information about student progress and diminish accountability in the education system.

This week, due to outcry from parents, the government reversed its decision.

And that’s good news. According to a 2022 Leger poll, 93 per cent of Manitoba and Saskatchewan parents with children in K-12 schools support standardized testing to understand how their children and their children’s schools are doing in core subjects of reading, writing and math. That’s the strongest level of parental support in Canada.

We also know that Manitoba students are struggling. According to results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) standardized test of 15-year-olds, Manitoba students have dropped 22 points in math and nine points in reading from 2012 to 2022, the latest year of data. In PISA’s equivalent terms, that means Manitoba 15-year-olds today are one year behind where they were just a decade ago in math. Manitoba students are also about one and a half years behind the Canadian average in math, and more than one year behind in reading.

Of course, if we don’t know how students are performing academically, we won’t know how to help them improve. While PISA offers a window into student skills every three years, Manitoba’s provincial exams test teens every year on subject-specific content knowledge, which is the building block for understanding, critical thinking and future academic success. Crucially, these tests use an objective measure to test students relative to their peers. And 91 per cent of Manitoba and Saskatchewan parents with children in K-12 schools say it’s “important” or “very important” to know how their child is doing in the core subjects, relative to other students, by a fair and objective measure.

Manitoba parents were already worried that the cancelation of provincial exams due to COVID-19 school closures left their teens woefully unprepared for university, necessitating additional prep courses. Indeed, research shows students are still catching up after these school closures set them back significantly.

Finally, had the  Kinew government eliminated exams, Manitoba would be like British Columbia where the government replaced high school exams with vague student assessments (but kept elementary assessments). The result—research shows the tests are less valuable and fewer B.C. students even bother to write them. Again, most other provinces require provincial exams. Even the previous Manitoba NDP governments of Gary Doer and Greg Selinger retained the Grade 12 provincial exams because they recognized their value.

Provincial exams are an important accountability tool with overwhelming parent support. The Manitoba government was right to reverse its bad decision and keep them in place for the sake of parents and students.

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