Partial exemption available for students affected by diploma exam glitch

January 27, 2015
ATA News Staff

Students affected by a glitch that delayed the writing of diploma exams earlier this month will have the option of applying for a partial exemption.

On Jan. 13, Alberta Education’s Quest A+ exam system crashed due to high traffic volume, disrupting thousands of students who were writing part A (the essay portion) of their English Language Arts 30 diploma exams.

The partial exemption that Alberta Education is offering will assign a mark based on a “multiple regression” calculation that predicts what the affected students would have gotten on the exam. This process assigns students the mark earned by those with similar school-awarded marks and part B marks.

“The multiple regression approach provides our ‘best predictor’ of how these students would have performed on part A if they actually wrote the examination based on how other students with similar scores actually performed on part A. Basically, Alberta Education is providing these students with the same mark as students who did not experience the administration challenges,” states Alberta Education’s website.

Alberta Teachers’ Association President Mark Ramsankar is not entirely happy that students will be given the opportunity to apply for exemption and is concerned about the process being used and the calculations being made.

“Thousands of Grade 12 students were negatively impacted by the failure of the diploma software, and the appropriate reaction would be to ensure that no students are harmed,” said Ramsankar.

He is critical of Alberta Education’s decision that requires students to file for an exemption before knowing whether the disruption had a negative impact on their grades. He also suggests that the exemption should simply replace the part A mark with the school-awarded mark.

“Students spend months in class performing a wide variety of assignments,” said Ramsankar. “The teacher mark provides a much richer indicator of what a student knows and is capable of than a single essay question that a student spends three hours producing.”

More importantly, says Ramsankar, the whole situation speaks strongly to why the weighting on diploma exams should be lowered.

“Here we have a catastrophic event that affected the performance of thousands of students,” he said. “Yet, in any given diploma exam administration, there will be many, many individual students who experience some event that effects their performance. It is unfair that it should impact so heavily on their grades and their future.”

The Alberta Teachers’ Association has a long-standing policy suggesting that diploma exam marks should be weighted 20 per cent of the final grade as opposed to the current 50 per cent. The Alberta School Boards Association passed a motion last fall urging a 30 per cent weighting.

Education Minister Gordon Dirks has said that the government will take a look at the issue of diploma exam weighting and is currently touring the province talking to school boards about a number of issues including the exam weighting. ❚