The Impact of High School Exit Exams on ESL Learners in British Columbia

Dennis Murphy Odo


This essay explores the validity of including ELL students in British Columbia provincial high school exit exams. Data and a sample exam from the BC Ministry of education are used to scrutinize the practice of using BC provincial exams for high school exit decisions regarding ELLs. A comparison of failure rates of ELLs and mainstream students provides evidence for the inappropriateness of the BC provincial exams for ELLs. Ministry statistics reveal ELL failure rates ranging from twice to four times those of all students. An analysis of a sample exam found on the ministry website reveals confounding of content and language in the exam such that it is impossible to determine whether the exam is measuring language proficiency or content area knowledge. This exam shortcoming casts serious doubt on the legitimacy of using the provincial exam as an assessment for ELL learners. Possible negative consequences of including ELLs in these exams such as increased likelihood of school disappearance are discussed. Suggestions including providing alternative forms of assessment for ELLs are provided to facilitate managing the challenge of assessing ELLs attempting to obtain a high school diploma in BC.

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English Language Teaching       ISSN 1916-4742 (Print)   ISSN  1916-4750 (Online)

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