Mr. Fassbender? I’m calling your bluff.

So, remember when the government locked teachers out in May? Part of that lockout was – and is – three full days where we aren’t allowed to go to work. Even before the full-scale strike started, June 25th, 26th, and 27th were slated as lockout days. Days that we would normally be at work, but were told not to go.

Now, this created a lot of concern for teachers because Provincial Exams were scheduled for June 24th. Specifically, the English 10 and Social Studies 11 exams are happening tomorrow. These exams both have a number of multiple-choice questions, plus two essays. The essays are typically marked by the English 10 and Socials 11 teachers the following day.

But, uh, the next day is June 25th. And teachers were locked out. When they would normally be marking the standardized tests.

Even before the strike, teachers wouldn’t have been able to mark these exams.

Not to worry, though! The Ministry of Education was going to figure out how to deal with it. The exams were deemed essential, after all. They couldn’t be cancelled. But weeks after the lockout order, Fassbender still didn’t know how the exams would be marked, but he had “people working on it.”

Well, I guess those people finally figured it out.

It was announced today that English 10 students will be writing only one of the two essays and that Social Studies 11 students won’t be writing any essays at all.

And this makes me angry. Very angry.

A big part of teaching, a huge part that I didn’t even consider before stepping into the classroom, is logistics. It’s planning and problem solving. It’s trying to avoid figurative fires, and putting them out before they become infernos when the unexpected happens.

But this? This is like throwing a cigarette butt out the window. It’s creating fires. And I don’t know if the powers that be even realize it.

So, let’s take a look at the raging heat they’ll have to answer to shortly. Because I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I hope that somebody does – somebody with the power to make this right.

1. We were locked out on May 21st. Why did it take over a month to make the decision to axe huge portions of the exams?

2. Independent schools (that is, private schools) wrote these two exams on June 19th. In January, the public school schedule was changed to June 24th. Even without asking why this was done, what will happen with the exams that have already been written and marked? Will the whole thing be counted, or will just the same portions as the public school students be considered?

3. Why can’t qualified administrators mark the exams? They did it in 2012.

4. The English 10 exam has left the more difficult Synthesis Essay (a compare and contrast paper) and eliminated the Original Composition (typically a narrative essay). The marking guidelines for the compare and contrast essay focus heavily on content, not writing. So, it’s basically testing reading comprehension. As are the multiple-choice questions. How is reading comprehension worth 20% of a student’s overall grade?

5. Because the synthesis essay is typically more difficult, this semester’s grade 10s are likely to receive an overall score that lower than their peers from other semesters, since they won’t have the original composition to provide balance. How will this impact their Provincial Scholarship awards?

6. The Social Studies 11 exam is worth 20% of the students’ overall mark. Do they truly think that 55 multiple-choice questions are worth that much?

7. Socials 11 is a critical thinking course. How is the ministry planning to assess critical thinking through multiple-choice questions?

8. Both of these exams typically have a three-hour time limit. Is that time limit being reduced in proportion to the amount of the exam that has been removed? If the time is not being adjusted, how can they call this semester’s exams comparable to any other semester’s if students have twice the amount of time to write an essay, or three times the opportunity to answer selected response questions?

9. Why did they wait until the day before the exam to announce these changes? Do they not realize how much undue stress that will cause for students? Sure, some will be thrilled, but not all. Some students don’t do well with selected response. Others have test writing anxiety.

10. If these standardized tests are so important that they’re worth twenty or thirty percent of a student’s overall grade, why aren’t they important enough to mark?

So, I have questions. And anger. But not even for myself.

No, I’m angry for the students. I’m angry for the kids who had to write a much longer test in January, and those who have to write a harder test in June. I’m angry for the kids who struggle with dates, but can explain the significance of a hundred years of history in essay form. I’m angry for the students who’ve spent countless hours practicing their writing skills, honing them to fit the format prescribed by the ministry, only to be told that their work isn’t worth anything. I’m angry for the students who actually grew an interest in the human aspect of history and geography, only to be treated like a computer storing data, ignoring the deeper significances that they’ve been looking at all year.

But that’s not all. I’m angry for my colleagues. I didn’t teach either of these courses this year. I didn’t spend weeks and months prepping students for a Ministry of Education created standardized – a test that’s no longer standard. I didn’t comfort stressed students and bolster their confidence along with their skills. But a bunch of my colleagues did.

And that doesn’t seem to matter.

The government had more than a month to come up with a solution to their lockout blunder. But they didn’t use that time. Instead, they stuck with their lockout and said they didn’t need teachers. And swore the exams would continue. And promised they’d be marked. Then, when they couldn’t stall any longer, they admitted that they had no plan. That students were going to suffer from their lockout strategy. That they’d been bluffing all along.

So, tomorrow, alarms will sound in gyms all over the province as uncontrolled fires of confusion burn. And I hope there’s more than a bluff in the works to put them out.

12 thoughts on “Mr. Fassbender? I’m calling your bluff.

  1. David

    Hi , I really appreciate your post. I am not a teacher and I am not fully aware of how everything works but your post raised a question as a concerned parent.

    I always thought Provincial Exams were a seperate contract? If this is so, could we not hire retired teachers to help mark said exams for the benefit of the kids?

  2. Ashley D. MacKenzie Post author

    Hi David,

    English 12 is the only exam that is typically marked by teachers who are working on a separate contract. When the English 10 and Social Studies 11 provincial exams were introduced, their marking was absorbed by classroom teachers – that is, added to their regular end of semester workload. These essays are normally marked at the same school in which they are written, by the teachers who taught these courses that semester.


  3. Nola

    Thank you for your thoughts. I have a grade 11 who has no idea what to think now. He’s relieved on the one hand as the essay topics on these tests don’t always seem to be most well chosen, but now more nervous as the whole thing hinges on him not making silly mistakes. The kids were told ages ago that there might not be any essays, then yes there were going to be, then we hear the night before none. If this is any indication of how the government does business, well, I am more worried than ever. I don’t think this part of the “essay” was very well thought out or planned and as a parent I give the province a big “zero”.

  4. Ashley D. MacKenzie Post author

    Hi Nola,

    I empathize with your grade 11. There are many unanswered questions about how this decision is going to play out in terms of test results and long-term effects. I encourage both you and your child to write your MLA to express your concerns and ask whatever questions you may have.


  5. John Gellard

    To David: I am a retired English teacher. Taking a contract to mark exams would be strikebreaking, and I would not do it in he unlikely event that it were offered.

  6. Greatful citizen

    Hi. Thank you for writing this to clarify the matter. I hope it reaches a lot of people and that they will finally start realizing who is truly the villian of this terrible saga. I hope they are voted out in the next election with a number crushing defeat, and that the next ones to take the reigns actually live up to their obligations and campaign promises.

    Our kids are long out of school, but my husband and I fully support the teachers and have watched this latest debacle with the government play out with total disgust at how you, the students and our entire public educational system has been treated.

    I’ve watched since my own days in school during the 70s and early 80s are slowly picked to pieces by every party in power. Clark’s government definitely wins the prize for being the biggest vultures of all thus far. They’re truly masters at misinformation and propaganda, spending immense amounts of our tax dollars to do it. All the while giving themselves (the executive branch I mean, not the regular staff who do the actual work), a big fat pay raise. To say nothing of their union busting tactics.

    Please keep fighting and letting folks, especially parents with kids still in school, the truth of what you actually face as teachers in BC.

    And last, but definitely not least, thank you for the doing one of the toughest, yet much under-appreciated jobs out there. You do it with ever shrinking resources – that I’ve personally seen it many times in recent times – for unfair wages.

    My best regards to you and all of the BC teachers.

  7. Gena Kolson

    I’m confused: The ministry of education insisted on standardized testing to ensure accountability in education, but those standards fondown the drain as a means of maintaining the testing. Is that an example.of irony?

  8. Judy Lea

    Dear Ashley, Thank you so much for making your points so clearly and eloquently, and for showing your totally justified anger at the ridiculousness and stupidity of it all.

    Judy Lea
    (not English) teacher

  9. Margaret Mcdonald

    Dear Ashley, thank you for a well thought out synopsis of the Liberals’ latest
    Mess. Another glaringly obvious proof that the kids matter not one bit to them.

    Our kids are teachers, there will be three in the family when the last one finishes
    His practicum in December. We are behind teachers and public education 100%.

    We are retired professionals and are very concerned with how the teachers are
    Being treated, we believe it is a harbinger of things to come, labour wise. All unions
    Need to sit up and take notice, these Liberal thugs need to be stopped. Thanks
    Again Ashley.

  10. Sherry

    Once again, this government is showing their utter disregard for the students of this province, and for education as a whole. I have heard “talk” about students needing to be prepared for a more widespread global competitive market, but until the education system in this province is fixed to meet the needs of all the students, our children will graduate (or not) ill-prepared for what they will be faced with when they leave high school…. Shame on Christy Clark and her band of bullies.