Students head into a portable classroom in Chilliwack. Some urban centres are seeing rising enrolment. (Greg Laychak/Black Press)

B.C. students learning for ‘real life’ but teachers say reality needs funding

Both the numeracy and literacy assessments will replace provincial exams that were introduced in B.C. in 1984 at the Grade 12 level.

Waking up for school won’t be the only reality facing British Columbia students entering their senior high school years as ongoing curriculum changes aimed at connecting them to real-life decision making are further implemented.

The Education Ministry says the curriculum overhaul, which was implemented for kindergarten to Grade 9 students in 2016, is designed to allow for more critical thinking, collaboration and communication in applying information learned in the classroom to everyday situations.

Changes starting earlier this year mean students in Grade 10 are no longer required to write a provincial math exam but must instead complete a numeracy assessment that incorporates knowledge from various subjects. The assessment can be completed in any year between Grades 10 and 12.

The ministry provided a sample assessment that included a hypothetical news report about nine British Columbia communities’ “skyrocketing” water use plotted on a graph, along with other information. Students would be required to answer 12 questions, including those based on how a family could save on its weekly water consumption.

Some questions are based on First Nations’ former practice of living in circular homes called pit houses, requiring students to estimate their height, living space and dimensions of the top opening.

The provincial English exam will also be scrapped next year for students in Grade 12. Instead, students will complete a literacy assessment that is still being developed.

Both the numeracy and literacy assessments will replace provincial exams that were introduced in B.C. in 1984 at the Grade 12 level.

“Many provinces are moving in the direction of competency-based curricula, with B.C. one of the leaders in this area,” the Education Ministry said in a statement.

Results from the assessments will not be blended with classroom marks because they are not tied to a particular course, the ministry said, adding results will be tied to a four-point proficiency scale that will be recorded on students’ transcripts.

Education Minister Rob Fleming said modernizing the curriculum and graduation program will help ensure students are armed with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed whether they move on to university or trades training.

“The world is changing and it’s our duty to make sure kids are ready to succeed in that changing world,” he said in a statement.

Peter Liljedahl, a professor and associate dean of graduate studies in the faculty of education at Simon Fraser University, said numeracy applies math in realistic settings and includes planning and budgeting around costs, time and space.

For example, students would learn to interpret graphs containing information about elections or estimate the time required for several tasks, including driving to a certain destination, and working backwards to determine what time an alarm should be set to start the day.

“It is absolutely real life. And it’s about making sure you’re able to utilize mathematics,” Liljedahl said, adding students writing the numeracy assessment would be using what they’ve learned in multiple subjects throughout their education so individual teachers aren’t responsible for it.

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Teresa Harwood, whose son Jason Depka will be starting Grade 10 this week, said the new numeracy and literacy assessments would be a good fit for the “hands-on guy” who may be headed for a career in the trades sector.

“In general, I think that’s a good thing,” she said of the curriculum changes. “If you’re not on an academic stream then those types of real-life situations, I think, are going to be helpful to students moving forward as they get into the work world, even learning how to budget at home.”

However, she said her older son, Matt Depka, who graduated a year ago, benefited from writing the provincial English exam in Grade 12 because it prepared him for university.

But he was anxious about the results, which counted for 40 per cent of his overall English mark, she said from her home in Nanaimo.

“Thinking about it coming up was extremely anxiety inducing, the thought of it affecting his mark and therefore affecting his entrance to university,” she said of her son, who is on the autism spectrum and found it challenging to write an exam containing texts he hadn’t learned about in class.

Teri Mooring, first vice-president of the B.C. Teachers Federation, said overall, the union has been supportive of the curriculum changes though “we do have concerns around timing and resources.”

“Many of our members feel that they haven’t been given enough support through additional non-instructional days to learn about the changes and prepare for them,” she said in a statement.

“Our members need up-to-date learning resources to actually do the teaching,” she said, adding students are using old textbooks.

Teachers also require access to local resources to help incorporate Indigenous content into all subjects and materials to teach new courses including the sexual health curriculum, Mooring said.

“We want to continue to work with government on these changes, but we need to see a larger funding commitment to ensure the changes are a success.”

The ministry said it’s in the process of identifying additional resources and supports to help teachers.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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