British Columbia’s ombudsperson says the province’s Ministry of Education will apologize to students and compensate any students who were financially harmed by incorrect provincial exam results in 2019.
This comes after a report released Thursday from the ombudsperson, Jay Chalke, called Course Correction: The Ministry of Education 2019 Provincial Exam Errors.
In 2019, of the nearly 32,000 exams written during the June 2019 session, the results posted for 18,741 exams were incorrect.
When the ministry posted updated results, 9,946 of the exams received a higher mark and 8,795 received a lower mark than initially posted, according to the report.
The Office Ombudsperson started an investigation into the ministry’s response to the tabulation error because of concerns about how individual students were impacted. The investigation also looked at whether the ministry provided students and their families with enough information for them to understand that they might need to contact the post-secondary institutions, scholarship grantors and other recipients their transcripts were sent to, in order to protect their interests.
“When news broke that the ministry had incorrectly tabulated the June 2019 provincial examination results, students and their families told us about the stress, anxiety and panic they felt, and their uncertainty about what action they needed to take. Students with high course marks were upset to see
failing exam marks; conversely, students with lower course marks saw high exam marks, only to find out later that they had not done as well as had initially been posted. One student told us they celebrated because they would graduate alongside their friends, only to find out later they had failed and thus would not graduate that year,” the report said.
In the report, Chalke found the ministry’s communication with students and their families was misleading, and in some cases inaccurate.
“Our findings reveal a number of shortcomings in a system that young people were relying on at one of the key points of their lives,” Chalke said in a statement.
“A rushed and inadequate quality assurance process led to the errors. What followed was poor communication with students, families and post-secondary institutions at a time when clarity was needed.”
The report highlights that tabulation processes were rushed and that both internal and external concerns
highlighting discrepancies were not immediately addressed.
Gaps in the ministry’s quality assurance process meant incorrect results were released even after ministry staff, students and secondary institutions were aware of problems, according to the report.
The report found that more than 100,000 potentially incorrect transcripts were obtained by
post-secondary institutions and others before the errors were corrected.
The investigation also details a series of unclear, inaccurate and misleading statements in the wake of the errors. The report says the course of several days, the ministry was slow to advise the public of the nature and scope of the tabulation errors and gave overly broad assurances that the situation was fully in-hand.
For example, the report highlights a ministry press release that suggested that post-secondary institutions throughout North America had provided assurances that students would not be impacted, when in fact at the time of the press release, only one institution – the University of British Columbia – had given that assurance.
“Ministry staff worked quickly and diligently to correct the tabulation errors and that was positive but, when government makes a mistake, good public administration demands more.” Chalke said.
“Not only does the technical error need to be fixed but the potential impact on people needs to be addressed. When government makes a mistake, it needs to put things right.”
The report makes six recommendations all of which have been accepted by the ministry:
- By October 1, 2020, the ministry implement a quality assurance process to include clear, practical and adequately detailed procedures for the review and approval of assessment results that will promote consistency and accurate, timely and effective problem solving.
- By October 1, 2020, the ministry develop and implement procedures to promptly address concerns raised after a release of results, including provision for sufficient staffing during critical periods and adequate documentation, investigation and escalation of concerns.
- By October 1, 2020, the ministry implement a communications protocol with its Government Communications and Public Engagement (GCPE) advisors that requires a senior ministry official to certify in writing that all statements in any news release, social media posting, website posting or other communication with the public are accurate and not misleading.
- By December 31, 2020, the ministry implement a protocol for communicating with students and the public that is transparent and emphasizes timeliness, service, record keeping and the importance of clear, correct and readily available public information. As the process of responding to student and public concerns is spread over several units, the ministry develop a consistent method of tracking concerns from various units and using the information obtained to improve service delivery for future assessments
- By December 31, 2020, the ministry take the necessary and appropriate steps to establish a compensation program for students negatively impacted by the 2019 exam tabulation errors. This should include by that date all of the following:
• establishing a fund
• establishing the terms of reference for the compensation program
• designating the person(s) who will determine compensation eligibility
• identifying all students whose exam results were impacted by the error
• notifying those students regarding their ability to submit a compensation claim.
The compensation program should provide for financial payments to be made to individuals who can demonstrate that a financial loss was incurred or an expense reasonably arose from the exam tabulation errors and should include, but not be limited to, students whose grades were adjusted both downward and upward.
- As part of the student notification in Recommendation 5 and by December 31, 2020, the ministry should identify, contact and apologize to all students whose exam results were impacted by the errors, regardless of whether the ministry has information as to whether a student suffered a financial loss or expense. To the extent required to obtain current contact information for the students impacted, the ministry should, in consultation with the Information and Privacy Commissioner if required, seek the co-operation of school districts, post-secondary institutions,
StudentAidBC and other public bodies.
“I am encouraged that the ministry has accepted our recommendations and has committed to do the
necessary work that will lead to full implementation including formally apologizing to students affected and compensating anyone financially impacted. Young people at a critical juncture of their lives deserve nothing less,” Chalke said. adding his office will be monitoring the recommendations in the report and will report publicly on the ministry’s implementation.
The Office of the Ombudsperson is an oversight office, independent of government, that has jurisdiction over more than 1,000 provincial and local public bodies in British Columbia. More information can be found here.