Sunday, October 4, 2009

Structure & Governance – Centralized versus Decentralized

I found it really interesting to read about Canada’s system of education in the text. Although I already knew a lot of this information, I also never really considered it before. Canada’s system of education is highly decentralized at a national level but is centralized within each province and territory. This means that each province/territory controls its own education system. On a federal level, the government deals with such issues as the equalization of funding between the provinces/territories (Barakett & Cleghorn, 2008, p. 19).

Even though Canada’s system is decentralized and each province has a separate system of education, according to Barakett and Cleghorn (2008), they are remarkably similar (p. 18). One possible reason for this is to allow students to move around Canada without being behind or ahead of their classmates. In other words, most provinces agree on what a child should learn by each grade level. If a child were to move from another country however, they may be significantly behind or ahead of their peers.

The unique structure of the education system in Canada has some advantages and disadvantages in my mind. First of all, I think that is it good that each province/territory is in charge of its own system of education. The ministry of education of each system in Canada can determine what is important in their education system and can focus on issues that are significant to their area. On the other hand, one area that surprised me was the teaching time spent in schools. Because our system is decentralized on a large scale, the amount of time spent teaching varies greatly from province to province. Specifically, Ontario is considerably lower than other provinces at ~3.75 hours per day. This is just one example of the difference between provinces.

Because I went to school in Saskatchewan and now am doing my post-secondary in Alberta, I notice a lot of differences between our school systems – especially being in the education faculty. I will admit that I really didn’t know what diploma exams and provincial achievement tests were all about until I moved here. A lot of Alberta students don’t realize this but in Saskatchewan we don’t have to do those. As a teacher in Saskatchewan, you can achieve a type of certification that allows you to write your own finals. Therefore, every final exam I wrote in high school was written by my teacher. When I found out that in Alberta you had to write a standardized test worth 50% of your mark in grade 12, I thought it sounded ridiculous – no offense Alberta! After I got into the education faculty, it seemed as though that was all anyone talked about. It seems like such a huge issue here, whereas in Saskatchewan it isn’t. I find that really interesting because we are right beside each other! That is yet another example of a difference.

Is it a good idea to allow these differences between provinces or should we be more centralized across the country?


  1. I wonder about this lack of diploma exams :) Being that I am an Albertan I definitely know about the diploma exams and the stress they created for me. haha But I do think it sets a good standard for students to be compared upon, almost like an SAT or ACT (I think that is what it is called).

    How could Saskatchewan education actually know what you were being tested on? Did your teacher have to hand in a copy of the test that he or she was administering? Perhaps your teacher only focused on one thing or told you exactly what would be on the test?

    What about university entry? Did they just use your final grades? Did you have to write a test to compare knowledge level? I am not saying that your education system is worse!!! I am just confused how post-secondary schools are comparing students from different areas that don't have a baseline or standard to compare them against. Teachers could be slightly generous with grading that final or perhaps too hard with that final. It just seems that your personal teacher is too involved in your final exam. This could definitely be because I was given diplomas and remember that my teachers weren't allowed to be in the area that the exam was given, or see the exam.

    I don't necessarily think that our system is the way to go, but I do think it creates a good way of comparing students for admissions. Or maybe evens out the playing field a little for all of the students who had a teacher that they felt was "not fair".

    Were there any stipulations for the teachers that got to write their own exams? Any procedures they had to follow? What were your experiences like with the final exams??

  2. Well, I definitely anticipated this response and I agree with a lot of your points! Standardized testing does have some advantages; however, I don’t entirely agree with using them. I don’t feel as though they are an accurate representation of student learning and I almost feel as though they are “for show”. There are other ways to ensure that a student is learning the material.

    I will just quickly respond to some of your questions. For entry to the University, they just looked at my final grades. I did not have to write anything additional to get into University in Alberta. However, some of my courses corresponded to different ones in Alberta as there are different equivalent requirements for different provinces (

    I had finals in all of my high school courses – not just the core subjects. These were held during an exam week. All of the exams that I wrote were written by my teacher or a combination of teachers (i.e. if there was two French teachers, they may have chosen to write it together). However, my high school did not give formal final exams in English courses for Grades 10-12. For that reason, I was required to have a higher grade to meet my Language Proficiency Requirement for the Education Department – since I did not write a diploma. Exams were usually not very stressful for me. I personally felt as though the finals that I wrote were an accurate representation of what was required of us to learn and what we learned in class (i.e. it was applicable). In addition, finals exams were not worth 50%, they were usually worth 25-30%.

    I do see some possible problems with the way it was done at my high school. There are definite biases and possible grade inflation/deflation. However, I don't feel as though it has affected me personally moving to Alberta. I feel that my knowledge is at an equal level to Alberta students. There are definitely differences in curriculum that I have noticed but all of the basic skills are there. I think a lot of people assume that students in Saskatchewan are not held to high enough standards but I don’t agree at all. It’s interesting because Alberta is all about differentiated instruction right now but the abundance of standardized testing suggests just the opposite. I just can’t understand how one exam can be a good indicator of student learning.

    For a teacher in Saskatchewan to determine their students’ final grades in grade twelve, they much be accredited. Accreditation basically means that a teacher as the responsibility of determining the final mark of a student’s specific Grade 12 (Level 30) subject(s) within the framework of the provincial curriculum. Here is some more information about it: Clearly there are standards and hopefully a teacher would not abuse them. You are right in saying that there is no way of really knowing if everyone in Saskatchewan is learning the same things and held to the same standards.

  3. I'm also an Albertan, so PATs and Diploma exams have been a norm throughout my schooling and for the longest time I thought all students in every province had to do them, until I talked with some of my cousins from Saskatchewan and found out that they did not have diploma exams. I was a little surprised but didn't think too much of it at the time. But now that I am in Ed, I do wonder which is better.

    In one of my classes, we had a discussion on diploma exams and what they are meant to measure. The prof is from Ontario where they do not have diplomas either but she said that as teachers they had to submit their exams for review to the education board and that caused a lot of stress for the teachers. Some teachers were creating exams that were way too easy and some created tests that were way too hard, and so the teachers were told to either make their tests easier or to lighten up a little bit. As she was telling us this I thought that this would make for very inconsistent grades across the province and the teacher you had could definitely influence the grade you receive. I also wonder then, when Universities look at the applications, do they accept or reject you just on the grades or also on the school you attended? So I was wonder, as Brandie asked too, do the Saskatchewan teachers have to submit their exams for review like in Ontario? Or how is there consistency across the province? Or does there need to be consistency in what is tested as long as the teachers are teaching the curriculum?

  4. I wonder how many provinces are doing diplomas? I am going to have to look into that.

    Amanda you discussed that one test may not be the best indication of our learning, I wonder? I definitely agree at a younger age you are correct. But as we get older I think that we should be able to do a better job of conveying our knowledge. In university haven't you written any final exams that were worth a good percentage of your grade? I am trying to recall from my previous classes, I am mostly thinking it was 3 exams and that was my grade.

    I guess I just really felt the diploma worked to be the stabilizing bar of grades but maybe our system doesn't need to be stabilized by an exam?? Maybe we are trained or educated enough to not need the exam to make sure our students are learning everything they need?

  5. That's really interesting that teachers in Ontario have to submit their exams. That is something that I didn't know. It does make sense for Grade 12 finals. I never really thought about it until both of you mentioned it. To be honest, I am really not sure if Saskatchewan teachers are required to do so. As far as I know, they do not, but I really do not know a lot about the system from the teacher's perspective - only the student's. I'll let you know if I end up working there! You would think that if you are able to apply to Universities across the country with any high school diploma, then there must be some consistency across the provinces. I am sure that all of the basic knowledge is similar. However, I know that some of the more specific material is different (i.e. what books are required for study in English, what material is covered in Social, etc.)

    Brandie, I agree with what you said about the test writing thing. As older students, we should be able to convey our knowledge on a test. Some students, however, cannot - depending on how the test is set up. Text anxiety is also an issue with some students. It is hard for me to understand that as well because I've never really had any trouble with exams or text anxiety. University definitely is a prime example of exams worth most or all of a final grade. I experienced this a lot - especially at the U of A. Although I was able to cram all of the information in my mind and put it on the paper, I'm not sure I really learned anything. I would learn more from projects or papers personally. But that is the issue, that everyone has their preference as to how best to learn and convey knowledge and it is hard to standardize that.

  6. I think that someone needs to look into the benefits and drawbacks of each education system. I also grew up with achievements tests and diplomas, but I do not think this is the way to go. During my school years that involved a major test such as a diploma or achievement test I felt that there was added stress on not only the student, but evidently it was clear that some teachers were also very stressed over preparing students. I think with testing like that the focus is not on learning the curriculum material as it is on making sure the students will do well for the exam. Thus, it is like attempting to teach to the test. Now that there will be no more written response for the math and science diplomas I am also very much against this way of doing things especially since diploma exams no longer reflect a balanced assessment or student learning.

    What I would like to see is a universal testing system across Canada or none at all. For example, if one province has to do diplomas then all provinces should have to them. Or if all provinces have teacher created tests then every province should adopt that way of doing things. Otherwise, with no universal educational practices I am afraid that admission into post secondary, as Brandy pointed out, will be too tough to determine and measuring students or provincial education success will be nearly impossible to do. I feel that the current system of doing things is unfair and needs to be changed. I think that the way Alberta and Saskatchewan are doing things is NOT the way to go.

  7. I think that a universal exam would be a good idea if it is the decision to have diploma exams in each province. I only say that because I think it is important to check if all provinces' students are learning what they should be. However, I also feel that high school marks are irrelevant when education is continued in a post-secondary institution so diploma exams are not useful in that respect. For example, a general admission requirement of 65% at the U of L is is hardly demanding a lot. Therefore, doing well on a diploma exam doesn't really matter. When applying to a competitive faculty, such as Education, they obviously wouldn't look at your high school marks - they look at your university marks. Therefore everyone is kind of put on an equal playing field anyway. On the other hand, in the case of direct entry university programs, perhaps a universalized test would be useful.

  8. A universal test might be a good idea, but then again I think we would have to ask ourselves how that is any different from the tests that everyone is required to take in the U.S. to compete for admission into university. There are probably faults in that too. It just seems as though there will always be positive and negative effects to anything that is implemented. I wonder if a perfect education system and testing system exists and if it does then I would like to see it.


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