Students protest district decision to skip exam week

Students upset with the district's decision to hold regular classes during exam week are organizing a rally

Students upset with the district’s decision to hold regular classes during exam week are organizing a rally outside the district office Wednesday evening and asking that the decision be reversed.

Jessica White, a Grade 12 John Barsby Secondary School student and co-organizer of the rally, said exam week, when students are traditionally at home except when writing tests, is important for students.

“It gives us time to be at home and study without distractions,” she said. “We’re hoping that they give us our exam week back.”

In previous years, exam weeks were held at the end of each semester in January and June.

The district decided to make the change because the Ministry of Education eliminated provincial exams for many senior courses. Students are now only required to write five exams: Science 10, English 10 (or alternatives), selected Math 10, Social Studies 11, and English 12 (or alternatives).

“At the most, maybe about 2,500 of them would be taking one three-hour exam that week,” said Donna Reimer, school district spokeswoman. “That’s a fair bit of instructional time that will be a benefit to students.”

But White, who is writing an English and biology exam in January, said attending class in between exams will mean more stress at an already stressful time.

“Most of my friends get anxiety over their exams to begin with,” she said. “I want to be an elementary school teacher – I need good English and science marks.”

Students are also preparing for second semester during this time, White added.

“Now without the exam week, we have two days between first semester and second semester,” she said. “No study time, time to relax or get new supplies. And it’s not just about the students, the teachers are going to have to mark in class as well as having to teach.”

More than 150 students have listed themselves on Facebook as attending Wednesday’s rally, which starts at 5:15 p.m. outside the District Administration Centre on Wakesiah Avenue. A school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

Justin Green, first vice-president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said the union wasn’t consulted before the decision to hold regular classes during exam week was made late last month.

“Decisions made in the summer time allow you to make those changes, to operationalize it,” he said. “The timeliness of it is a huge issue for us.”

Green said a lot of exams besides the ministry-mandated provincials occur during exam week and teachers are now going to have to reorganize these tests into 80-minute blocks.

On top of giving tests, teachers also use exam week to mark, help students prepare for exams and to prepare themselves for the next semester, he said.

“It’s not time that is down time,” said Green.

The union has talked with 18 other districts on semester timetables and only Nanaimo and one other district have decided to cancel exam week, he added.