I recently read in the local paper that the BC Ministry of Education is fazing out provincial exams as an unnecessary part of the new student-centered curriculum. As a teacher who was both involved in helping to set this evaluative procedure and preparing students to write them, I have mixed feelings about this announcement. Sure, I never felt comfortable in having students write what many considered meaningless exercises in rote learning, but a part of me always held out for an instrument that would critically test a student’s mastery of a body of concepts. Such a model might involve fifty multiple choice questions that cover the application of key concepts in a contextual setting where students are expected to analyze, synthesize and draw conclusions. Unfortunately, these government exams, especially in the humanities, often became exercises in reinforcing very basic knowledge. Without exams in these disciplines, I fear that teachers and students will have one less means to objectively determine how successful they have been in grasping the big ideas in the course. Because we are becoming a very multicultural society, with widening diversity of cultural interests and language competency, I guess the bureaucrats woke up to the possibility that province-wide high school testing was doing little more than reinforcing that point. As someone who is deeply involved as a peer marker with Coursera – an internal alliance of universities – I see evidence of this gap all the time: ESL students struggle to write essays or pass tests. So if that is the case, should public educators and the BCTF buck for a ‘better’ evaluative tool or depend wholly on in-class testing and project work? As traditional texts are disappearing, so are exams used to measure them which still leaves quizzes, discussions, reports, projects and essays available to the classroom teacher. On the latter two that might make Wikipedia, by default, the preferred source of information in a rapidly changing world driven by the whims and fortunes of social media. Imagine essays being written on what students garner from tweets and Facebook rather than respected reports and articles. What really has made this decision inevitable is that the BC government has taken another opportunity to save money by eliminating some of them. By the way, while I often did well on exams when I prepared for them, I never got excited about actually writing them. It was always a stressful experience, but when I learned that I had done well, it became a crowning achievement in moving on as a student, something to build on that indicated that I qualified for bigger challenges. This sensation was often corroborated by my students when they surprised themselves at having aced an exam. Everyone to a person acknowledged that they had done well because they knew their stuff, either through cramming or methodical and consistent review. What might be surprising to learn is that many of these students were just average performers looking to redeem themselves. Both our sons will swear that big exams were the making of their careers: moments when self-confidence soared and the future began to open. Instead of discarding this opportunity to achieve, altogether, because it threatens to become just as contrived and dominant as the SAT admission ordeal, maybe we need to check out other comprehensive forms on a smaller scale. Maybe students would sit to assess, and solve ten historical or environmental problems based on grasp of curricular content.