12th graders ready to enter university without exam experience due to pandemic | Rare Techy


When Grade 12 students in the London area head off to university this fall, they will all have one thing in common.

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When Grade 12 students in the London area head off to university this fall, they will all have one thing in common.

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Like all his peers at the Thames Valley District School Board, Oakridge Secondary School Grade 12 student Steve Xia has not taken a single final exam since the pandemic was declared in March 2020.

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“I had a pretty normal year and a half of high school,” he said, “there were a lot of activities, I joined a lot of clubs and met new people.

“Everything fell apart when the pandemic started.”

The past two years of learning have been a sometimes frustrating transition between online and classroom learning.

Exams were canceled during the pandemic “as a way to maximize instructional time in the classroom to support new learning for students,” said Riley Culhane, associate director of the Thames Valley District School Board.

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“We had some experience taking the test in the first year and a half (before the pandemic),” said Zia, who plans to study nursing at Western this fall. “Our school board doesn’t have set exams, but for some of my classes, our teachers give us informal final evaluations that don’t count toward the grade.”

Still, questions linger about students’ ability to navigate their first year of post-secondary education.

“There’s a cloud of unknowns among my friends,” Zia said. “But they are hopeful and confident that their last semester of high school will give them the skills they need to work so they can adapt to university.”

George Letsos, a geography teacher and department head at Oakridge who is also Zia’s politics teacher, said the pandemic has caused a “huge change in teaching and learning.”

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But he believes there are “much more defining moments” in studying than a final exam.

Campus of Western University.  (Derek Rutten/The London Free Press)
Campus of Western University. (Derek Rutten/The London Free Press)

“Just because universities have exams, doesn’t mean high schools have to have them,” Letsos said. “There are more ways to show overall learning than just a test or an exam.”

As an example, he said his senior class has been working on a simulation of the United Nations as a way to demonstrate their skills.

“The process of getting them to research a country’s particular approach and communicate that to your peers and be able to defend that position is much more valuable than taking an exam,” Letsos said. “By taking on real authentic experiences, we’re trying to reshape what teaching and learning looks like.”

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Former Thames Valley education director Bill Tucker, associate professor in Western’s faculty of education, said there were ways to progress from the inexperience of their first year at university.

“I would encourage any Grade 12 student who has applied and been accepted into an Ontario university or college program to take advantage of the introductory programs offered by post-secondary institutions during the summer,” he said. “They provide excellent material to help students adapt to the world of university and college.”

At Western University, transition programming includes SmartStart Learning and Academics, where students can explore differences in university-style learning and grasp key concepts from Grade 12 courses.

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Through its Academic Success Program, a Western student in core first-year courses is paired with an upper-year study coach who can offer academic support and other opportunities throughout the fall term.

Western also offers the Thriving Foundation, a transition program that includes a summer academic orientation where students can access support in creating their course schedule.

“We know the transition from high school to university can be challenging for students, especially given the unique circumstances presented by the pandemic,” said Stephanie Hein Beatty, Western’s director of leadership and learning.

Western is hosting an open house on May 7 to give students a chance to explore program options, meet members of the university community and learn about support, she said.



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