Some Collingwood Collegiate Institute (CCI) parents took to the podium at the Simcoe County District School Board this week to take trustees to task over the elimination of formal exam days from the school calendar.
The parents provided a deputation to the board during the March 8 program standing committee meeting to advocate for two matters: the return of formal exam days for students, and concerns about snow days.
At both the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) and the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB), secondary students are given various different forms of assessment depending on course material, which may include exams, portfolio submissions or essays.
Where the two boards differ as of the 2022/23 school year is the public board no longer plans for formal exam days through their school calendars, while the Catholic board still has formal exam/assessments built into their school calendars.
“Exams are a part of life. At 61, I’m still writing exams,” said Alex Viera, parent of a Grade 9 student at CCI. “Learning to prepare and write exams is a life skill.”
With the advent of new technologies such as Chat GPT, Viera said formal exams will be more important now to make sure students are absorbing the material.
“Having no exams sends a signal: that you can cruise and rescue a credit and we’ll pass you anyway,” she said.
Starting in 2010, the Ministry of Education changed the curriculum, called Growing Success, which changed the way school boards were able to evaluate students. Under that policy, school boards were empowered to make their own decisions on how best to evaluate student success, with the only stipulation from the province being that 70 per cent of evaluations come from coursework throughout the school year, while 30 per cent comes from a final evaluation that could be an exam, but could also come in other forms such as essays, portfolios submissions or performance evaluations.
In the years since, many school boards across Ontario have gravitated away from formal exam periods due to changing advice on whether they are the best form of evaluation of student learning.
In a previous interview with CollingwoodToday, Dawn Stephens, associate director of education with the SCDSB said the public board had been looking at the issue since 2010 when the ministry policy came out.
To read our full story on the exam-day change in Simcoe County this year, as well as impacts at the post-secondary level, click here.
At that time, Stephens said the first time the board officially removed the structured exam days from the school calendar was in 2020 due to the pandemic when exams were put on hold, and this school year marked the first year post-pandemic to move away from the formal exam period. Instead, students are given final assessments (which could be an exam, essay or another form of assessment), and feedback days to go over the assessment outcomes.
On Wednesday, Viera said the new feedback days, from her vantage point, turned out to be a wash.
“I didn’t even know about it until the week before,” she said. “There was no school, so everyone went skiing. My son was told he was a good enough student that he didn’t need feedback. He could have improved throughout the year if he had received feedback throughout the year.”
“We think feedback days pander to the lowest common denominator,” she said. “How was this allowed with no consultation?”
During trustee questions on the deputation, Orillia/Severn/Ramara trustee Jodi Lloyd asked Viera and her co-presenter Carl Michener if they had read Growing Success.
Both Viera and Michener said they hadn’t read it.
“I would encourage you to do so because I think it would be helpful for you to understand assessment,” said Lloyd. “Are you aware that exams, under that document, are not compulsory?”
“We haven’t read the document,” said Michener. “If exams haven’t been compulsory since 2010, why do we have this uproar right now?”
“We do not debate at this point in time. It is questions of clarification only,” said Lloyd.
Michener also spoke specifically about the issue of snow days, noting there have been several this year without school programming on those days.
“Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or a reason for snow days,” he said. He said on snow days, while students must still arrive by 8 a.m., teachers are given until 10 a.m. to show up for work.
“In what other job is that acceptable? How is that acceptable to you?” asked Michener. “Classes are consolidated. There’s next to no learning going on.”
“I think school boards, teachers’ unions and possibly some teachers themselves are losing sight of who they serve,” he said.
In the last school year prior to the pandemic (2018/19), there were six full county bus cancellations and four partial county cancellations according to school board officials.
In 2021/22, there were six full county cancellations and 14 partial cancellations. In Collingwood, there were 10 cancellations last year that impacted the west weather zone, which includes Collingwood Collegiate Institute.
There have been a total of seven cancellations this year (2022/23) that impacted the west zone.
The Simcoe County Transportation Consortium oversees student transportation for both the Simcoe County District School Board and the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, and has contracts with school bus providers such as Landmark to provide those services. The consortium makes the decision on whether or not to cancel buses on a particular day based on the weather.
“Maybe those factors need to be looked at,” said Michener, adding he would like to see mandated programming and teacher contingency plans for snow days, as well as hybrid learning options.
“I don’t want to hear that you’re going to pass the buck,” he said.
Innisfil trustee Donna Armstrong suggested that the factors that determine whether an inclement weather day is called should be addressed with the consortium.
“There are many steps they have to take to make the call on a snow day. Many people come together, I believe at 4 a.m. to make a decision about that day. They’re not just looking at the morning, they’re looking at the whole day,” said Armstrong. “Safety of students is their first concern.”
Barrie trustee Lisa-Marie Wilson shared there have been many occasions when she has driven out to attend work and has turned around due to inclement weather.
“My life matters most. Some people are not comfortable driving in bad weather. I don’t think anybody should risk their life for work,” said Wilson.
At the end of the deputation, chair and New Tecumseth trustee Sarah Beitz told the deputants that the board is currently gathering feedback on formal exams and feedback days, as per direction from trustees during their previous board meeting that took place on Feb. 22.
Collingwood/Wasaga Beach trustee Mike Foley assured the deputants he would correspond with them directly regarding next steps and updates.