Thursday, April 15, 2010

What's a Diploma Exam Worth?

Having just completed the ELA 30 diploma exam with my Humanities students, I am once again drawn to wondering about the usefulness of a standardized English exam.  While Alberta Education consistently produces quality exams testing students' ability to read, comprehend, analyze, make personal connections, think critically, organize ideas and control language, the diploma exam itself contradicts other aspects of the program of studies. 

For example, revision and editing are nearly impossible in a timed exam situation.  Research and resource management are ignored, though these skills will be used for the rest of a student's life, especially in a post-secondary setting.  Collaboration, forget it, but that's okay; it's not like any employer expects you to share resources and ideas with other people while collectively working productively, right?  I know universities like diploma exams because they verify or correct the grades students receive from their teachers, but don't universities want to know how effectively their prospective students research, or manage resources, or collaborate with other students, or how well someone evaluates their own work in order improve the final draft?

Perhaps I'm wrong here, but a standardized English exam that only tests reading and writing in limited forms is not really an examination of a student's ability to understand, create and communicate meaning.  It is, however, a handy way to generate data measuring student success on one occasion (actually two, since the exam is split in two parts, written 12 days apart).


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