Alberta Education investigating social media leak of provincial exam answers

Alberta Education is investigating alleged answers for Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) leaking to social media, with at least one school cancelling exams.

The ministry notified schools of Grade 9 math answers reportedly circulating on June 18, according to education press secretary Katherine Stavropoulos. The ministry is “reminding school authorities to exercise their due diligence in supervising the remaining PATs.”

“Findings from this investigation may have an impact on future administrations to help minimize the chances of such a breach from occurring again,” she said in an emailed statement Friday.

The ministry is also aware of other photos and other subjects circulating online, which it will investigate.

The PATs — standardized tests administered annually to reflect what students are expected to learn  — were written across the province between June 13 and June 24.

The exams were suspended for the 2019-2020 school year, and only language arts and mathematics were available as an option for 2020-2021.

Stavropoulos said schools started having the option to write PATs at different times in the 2018-2019 school year. Around a quarter of schools were asking to write on alternate dates due to local events, transportation, and other issues.

“The window is a way to provide school authorities with flexibility,” she said.

PATs cancelled

Calgary Catholic Schools spokesperson Sandra Borowski said in an email the division became aware the breach extended beyond the first part of the math PATs to other exams as students who had access to answer keys and wrote the exams earlier posted to social media.

She said St. Martin de Porres School in Airdrie, Alta. canceled PATs because the school runs on a quarter schedule with writing dates extending beyond June 24, “which would result in a more widespread security breach putting into question the validity of Grade 9 PAT results.”

Grade 9 students there were provided with an alternate optional final assessment, Borowski said.

Edmonton Public Schools said last week it was looking into the matter. The Calgary Board of Education said it was aware of a breach and was working with Alberta Education. The Edmonton Catholic School Board said communication was ongoing with the province but that it had not cancelled any PATs.

A search for “Alberta PAT answers” on TikTok shows several videos with thousands of views purporting to reveal the multiple choice answers for science and social studies.

‘They should be voided’

Sarah Elaine Eaton, an associate professor at the University of Calgary who studies cheating and academic misconduct, said it would be natural for the test takers to look at these answer keys, whether they are verifiably correct or not.

“It’s human nature to be tempted, especially when we think that if we don’t cheat, or we don’t take a peek at those answers, that others may gain an advantage over us,” Eaton said.

Eaton said the PATs have been compromised, making the results no longer valid and reliable. She said what happens next should be a straightforward matter — they should be voided.

“There’s no way to put the toothpaste back in the tube, if you will,” she said.

Eaton said there have been numerous cases of answers leaking online in the past several years, including the Ontario bar exams.

“I have heard of this in other jurisdictions, it’s really not that uncommon, so it really does call into question about standardized tests being an effective way for students to show their knowledge,” she said.

Ensuring devices are off, tests are in person using pencil and paper and administering exams at the same time are possible security measures to be employed, she said.

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