by Paul Romani (M.Ed.)

Pear Tree School Students Win with New Provincial Exams

by Paul Romani (M.Ed.)

As schools around the province prepare for a new way of doing things, it will be business as usual for Pear Tree School students this fall.

That’s because changes the province is making to high school provincial exams are ones that Pear Tree was founded on seven years ago.

Starting this summer, one of the major changes that B.C. schools will face this year is the elimination of the standard provincial exams. In fact, students will now only be writing two exams during their high school years, down from the five tests they previously had to undergo. One test will be for literacy (reading) and the other for numeracy (math).

As a replacement for the previous provincial exams, the B.C. Ministry of Education determined that students should be assessed individually, in the classroom, using methods and content chosen by their teachers. The Ministry is strongly encouraging high schools to radically change and modernise their approaches, such as using inquiry-based projects:

“Focus on learner-centered and flexible learning. Personalized options enable students to participate in choosing course content. An inquiry-based, hands-on approach encourages students to take more personal responsibility for learning.” B.C. Ministry of Education

Since Pear Tree School’s approach is one that founded on theme and project-based learning, its students have always been assessed in this way.

Therefore, when Pear Tree students make the transition to high school, they will be ahead of their new peers. While other students from traditional private schools adjust to the curriculum changes, Pear Tree School students will integrate into their new schools with ease.

The Ministry notes that the provincial exam changes, which began several years ago, were developed to help students “better prepare for the modern world”. This has been something Pear Tree has continuously emphasised by equipping its students with collaborative, entrepreneurial and creative abilities starting in kindergarten.

In most private school classrooms around British Columbia, the focus has been on rote memorization and the regurgitation of facts, while Pear Tree School has always put learning into context so that students apply their learning, including math, reading, and writing. Pear Tree’s approach is not only far more challenging, but has proven much more effective for long-term learning.

The new high school assessments will be put in place this summer for the numeracy test portion, while literacy tests will be implemented in January 2019. As well, the new curriculum will go into effect this summer for Grade 10 students and next July for Grade 11 and 12 students.

With the new provincial regulations, students will be expected to write both a numeracy and literacy test once during their high school career. They will be permitted to rewrite the exams up to two times.

This assessment change to complement the updated B.C. curriculum is precisely what Pear Tree has been looking for since its inception in 2011, since the previous provincial exams were not a true reflection of the broader abilities of Pear Tree’s students. By putting more focus on inquiry-based learning in high schools, Pear Tree students will be in their element, because they’re already equipped with proficient critical thinking and research skills, as well as project-based learning expertise. Not only this, but they’re also very well-rounded socioemotionally and physically. This whole-child approach is a central element of the Pear Tree method.

In Pear Tree’s 21st Century Learning video (URL:, it lays out the basis of its progressive approach, which has seven key elements:

  1. Theme-Based Learning. This includes inquiry-, problem-, and project-based learning. For example, you naturally blend language arts, science, social studies and math when you discuss a theme like the environment. Subject matter should not be compartmentalized.
  2. TechnologyPear Tree believes that technology affords students with new tools that complement the learning process. It does not replace traditional approaches, however; for example, Pear Tree students still learn handwriting and use paper books. Nevertheless, the school recognises that most modern work is done via computer/keyboard.
  3. Hands-on learning. Also known as ‘experiential learning’, learning by doing has been proven to be the best way for students of any age to learn.
  4. Collaboration. While other schools foster competition between peers, Pear Tree’s project-based learning approach teaches students to work together and to recognize the strengths of others.
  5. Student-centred learning. Most private schools focus on learning facts that come from textbooks and from their teachers, in other words, a teacher-centered approach. At Pear Tree, students learn how to learn by actively finding the facts for themselves from real books. The new B.C. assessment methods embrace Pear Tree’s progressive approach by putting the emphasis on active research skills and demonstrating deeper-level thinking.
  6. Creativity. This more than just the fine arts; it is about developing new ideas and being innovative, not the regurgitation that most school programs have been focused on teaching. Pear Tree constantly encourages students to come up with new ideas, to experiment, to be different, to take risks and to learn from mistakes.
  7. Entrepreneurship. This skill comes by combining of all the previous elements.

Overall, Pear Tree School’s approach is how the province wants other schools to teach and assess students. Since Pear Tree’s students are assessed on the process and final work they produce in the classroom, when they transition to high school they will be extremely well accustomed to this way of learning. While other students struggle to transition from a teacher-centered, memorization-based method of learning, Pear Tree students can hit the ground running, not miss a beat, and continue their education journey successfully.

It is interesting to note that the BC Teacher Federation is in full support of the Ministry changes.

The Pear Tree way of doing things was always ahead of its time.