Diploma Examinations in Alberta: A Brief History

Testing in Alberta—1969–2003

1969 Alberta’s education minister announces that Grade 9 departmental examinations will be replaced by a battery of power tests in 1970.
1971 The Alberta Teachers’ Association’s (ATA) Annual Representative Assembly (ARA) adopts policy opposing departmental examinations.
1972 ATA endorses the abolition of Grade 12 examinations.
1973 Education minister announces discontinuation of mandatory Grade 12 departmental examinations.
1974 The department of education, using teachers as developers, works on its “scheme for systematic assessment of standards of achievement.” An ATA task force develops an interim position on accreditation and evaluation, meeting with locals and making revisions.
  In January and June, the first Grade 12 diploma examinations are administered to students in language arts, social studies, biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics and French.
  In November, the Warren Report on High School Credit and Diploma Systems is released. The report calls for a systematic monitoring of the quality of high school programs.
1975 Next Steps in Accreditation, by Bryant Stringham, advocates re-accreditation and de-accreditation of elementary, junior and senior high schools. ATA Task Force presents its draft recommendations on accreditation and evaluation to the ATA’s Provincial Executive Council (PEC). The first standardized achievement tests are normed by theDepartment of Education in selected Alberta high schools. The Rusnack Report, which discusses ways to implement accreditation, is presented to the education minister.
1976 ARA adopts a position on accreditation and evaluation. The province announces its intention to continue with the program despite the ATA’s protest.
  The minister of education announces a review of achievement of Alberta students. The general terms of reference include identifying the basic information needed to determine achievement levels of Alberta students.
  MACOSA (Minister’s Advisory Committee on Student Achievement) is established. The government announces that the first test will be administered in January 1977.
1977 The Harder Paper, which recommends annual, formal, externally developed exams, is released. (The report becomes a blueprint for changes to education that are experienced today.)
1978 ATA opposes the Harder Paper.
1979 MACOSA’s report to the minister is tabled in the legislature. The report recommends that “mandatory Grade 12 examinations for the purpose of awarding final marks not be reinstituted.” Education minister appoints G.L. Mowat to coordinate and analyze responses to the MACOSA report. Mowat conducts hearings and reports findings to theeducation minister. ATA supports MACOSA recommendations regarding departmental examinations.
1980 Mowat’s report is made public. The report notes a demand from the general public for mandatory Grade 12 examinations (educators, Alberta School Trustees Association, and home and school associations are somewhat ambivalent on the matter). The minister announces the government’s new policy relative to the evaluation of studentachievement in Alberta. ATA President K. M. Kryzanowski writes letter to MLAs regarding ATA position on departmental examinations and achievement testing. Minister announces creation of the Student Evaluation Branch, the Student Evaluation Policies Committee, Grade 12 Comprehensive Examinations and extension of the AchievementTesting program.
1981 Alberta’s deputy minister of education writes to superintendents and offers a definition of the Comprehensive Examinations Program, which will consist of exams in four discipline areas—language arts; history and social studies; mathematics; and physical and biological sciences, and a comprehensive education certificate available to those whochoose to write the exams. The first exams are scheduled for January and June 1983.
  Details on the achievement testing program are announced. Tests in Grade 3 math, Grade 6 science, Grade 9 Social Studies and Grade 12 English are administered in June 1982 on a provincial and jurisdiction sample basis. Boards could request total population testing by January 1982.
1982 ARA adopts policy opposing comprehensive examinations under present guidelines and format. The University of Alberta announces official policy stating its intention not to use results of comprehensive examinations in admissions decisions in the 1983–84 academic year and beyond. Alberta Education produces discussion paper on evaluationpolicies. Deputy minister writes letter to educational community outlining revised schedule and policies for comprehensive examinations. PEC unanimously adopts a motion opposing comprehensive examinations and initiates action reflecting this decision. Edmonton Public School Board opposes comprehensive examinations. Education ministerresponds to ATA announcement with scathing attack on the Association. PEC establishes Task Force on High School Student Evaluation.
  The first achievement tests are administered in Grades 3, 6, 9 and 12. They are administered on a sample basis, but many boards request total population testing.
1983 ATA adopts more policy on student achievement evaluation. ATA Task Force on High School Student Evaluation reports to PEC.
  Comprehensive examinations are administered in January. Only a small number of students opt to write them.
  A new system of mandatory course specific exams for Grade 12 students is announced. Half of students’ final marks in a course will be based on diploma exams. The exams will be administered in January, June and August.
  The achievement test program continues on a subject rotational basis in Grades 3, 6 and 9.
1984 Education minister announces provincial evaluation policies for students, teachers, programs, schools and system evaluations. A provincial diagnostic evaluation program is announced.
  The first set of diploma examinations is administered. Achievement tests are no longer administered on a sample basis.
1989 ATA resolution directs the Association to commission a study of diploma examinations in terms of “their effectiveness in facilitating the teaching/learning process.” First meeting of Committee on the Impact of Diploma Examinations convenes.
1990 ATA releases Impact of Diploma Examinations on the Teaching-Learning Process and accompanying review of the literature by Peter Calder, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Alberta.
1991 The education minister writes to ATA President Fran Savage, expressing his disappointment with the quality of the Impact of Diploma Examinations on the Teaching-Learning Process. Savage responds, noting that the minister’s comments reflect a narrow view of Calder’s work and advises that the ATA will consider recommendations designedto improve the diploma examinations program.
1996 ATA requests that the department of education not expand the number of diploma examination administrations from three to five; however, if the government proceeds, the ATA requests that
 
  1. diploma examinations continue to include a mixture of testing methods; for example, multiple choice and essay, rather than multiple choice alone;
  2. the costs of the additional administrations be kept as low as possible;
  3. test-writing centres be established for mid-semester administrations to reflect actual demand (for example, centres in Copernican schools and a centre in each city);
  4. aggregated test results be reported on an annual or semi-annual basis, not test by test, to reduce fluctuations and potential misinterpretation;
  5. resident students be eligible for mid-semester diploma examinations only if they are registered in a board-approved program.
  The ATA’s Curriculum Committee recommends that the ATA president and senior officials work with the various education partners to achieve a coalition on the need for the minister of education to take a public position that the use of achievement test and diploma examination results to rank schools is unacceptable.
1998 Equitable Access to Diploma Examination Writing Policy Review Meeting is held. Student Evaluation Branch organizes a meeting of representatives of school systems, postsecondary institutions, parents and special education interest groups to review diploma examination special provision policies and procedures used for students with learningdisabilities and/or physical disabilities (in effect since 1985).
2000 Consultations begin with Alberta Learning on proposed Outcomes Framework.
2002 Following labour action that begins in February and the imposition of Bill 12, teachers withdraw voluntary services associated with testing programs, including marking, field testing and validation. In response, the learning minister claims that teachers are not required to complete these tasks; consequently, the education department proceeds withmarking April diploma exams with its own staff.
  Negotiation of a good faith agreement leads to a resumption of teacher participation, including re-marking the April administration of the diploma examinations.
  A new and lower fee schedule for exam markers is announced. The ATA detects rumblings about a diminished role for Association representatives on examination committees. The learning minister says the government will never again obstruct provincial testing programs.
  The ATA proposes numerous recommendations to Alberta’s Commission on Learning relating to accountability and evaluation. These recommendations touch on the importance of teachers’ role in assessing student learning and call on the government to provide enhanced professional development that assists teachers in their assessmentpractices.
2003 By mid-year, it is apparent that consultation with the profession regarding exam development and administration are being sidelined by Alberta Learning. ATA representatives on technical review committees are removed. Meanwhile, Alberta Learning announces at the beginning of the school year that substantial scheduling changes will be madeto the administration of examinations. Of real concern to teachers is the decision to move the writing of the written component of the examinations forward, into instructional time in January and June. The ATA formally objects to the minister about both the rationale for this decision and its timing.
  Alberta Commission on Learning makes numerous recommendations that will increase the focus on external accountability measures. The Commission also recommends that the written component of the examination be retained and calls for the continued involvement of teachers in design and marking of diploma examinations.
  At the start of the 2003/04 school year, the learning ministry announces significant changes to the testing programs: the written component will be moved forward to ensure that teachers mark diploma exams during the school calendar, test questions will be secured (despite opposition) and steps will be taken to increase test equating.