It is that time of year. Some schools call it ‘evaluation’, some refer to it as ‘transition’, and others call it ‘adjudication’. Whatever the title, this week in high schools across BC, gatherings of teachers, councilors and admin will be held to determine the academic standing of students on the pass/fail bubble.
These conversations bring to the forefront a philosophical divide when encountering the “dilemma” of what to do with some at-risk students who either pass a given course, or come surprisingly close to it. In some cases the criteria for determining whether or not a student has shown sufficient evidence for competency around learning outcomes gets rather blurry.
Take the following scenario, which may or may not be from my own personal experience:
Claire, a 14 year-old grade 9 student, has missed a lot of school time, some of which certainly appears to be of her own making. When she is not sick or skipping class, she clearly struggles socially and has few friends. As her grade level administrator, I have met with her and her mother on numerous occasions, and besides my comments and questions, little else is offered by Claire or her mom. I have informed all of her teachers that there certainly appears to be issues within the family. Claire’s mother never comes out for Parent-Teacher interviews and often excuses her daughter from missed classes for being ‘ill’. Despite all the meetings and behavioural consequences like DTs for missed class, Claire’s behaviours have deteriorated. Perhaps of little surprise, academic penalties for missed tests, late work and poor participation have not had the desired effect either. In short, Claire has had a rather dismal year.
Her four terms in a linear Science 9 class have resulted in the following percentage grades and comments:
Term 1: 56 Claire needs to complete homework and improve attendance.
Term 2: 51 Greater participation would improve grade.
Term 3: 42 Missing assignments have resulted in a lower mark.
Term 4: 30 Missed classes and incompletes have resulted in failing mark.
Term Average: 44.75% Final Exam: 65%
With the average of the four terms accounting for 80% of the final outcome and the exam the remaining 20%, Claire’s final course standing was 48.8%.
At our adjudication meeting, there are three possible outcomes for Claire. For one, she could retake Science 9 in order to qualify for regular Science 10 and later be eligible for Chemistry 11, Physics 11 and Biology 11. The second outcome could see her get an SG (Standing Granted) for Science 9, but this would relegate her to Science 10A and eventually the less academic stream of Science and Tech 11. Lastly Claire could enroll in 2 weeks of summer school, possibly boost her academic standing, and if she passed she could enroll in regular Science 10.
In a chance hallway meeting between Claire’s classroom teacher and myself, we struck up a conversation around the various outcomes for Claire. Despite me mentioning that Claire clearly passed the final exam, it was obvious that the teacher was vehemently opposed to Claire be granted a passing grade based on the evidence to date.
We had the following conversation:
I asked, “Would you be open to counting the final exam as sufficient evidence to have Claire pass the Science 9 course?”
“Absolutely not,” the teacher responded.
“She has a final mark of 48.8 percent and according to school policy that is not a pass. She needs at least 50 percent overall.”
“But she did get well over 50 percent on the final exam,” I argued.
“The final exam makes up only 20 percent of the final grade.”
Pausing for a moment, I decided to explore another avenue. I asked, “Is your final exam a comprehensive sampling of the course material?”
“I think it is a solid exam, and it covers all of our course,” the teacher replied.
I continued, “So, you do think it covers all of the learning outcomes?”
Perhaps in response to seeing the direction the conversation was about to take, the teacher countered, “She may have met the learning outcomes, but she does not deserve to pass.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“She has skipped way too many classes, she has missing assignments and she has a horrible attitude. She needs to be taught accountability and the importance of coming to class.”
To be honest, I could not quite wrap my brain around the comment, ‘She may have met the learning outcomes, but she does not deserve to pass.’
From this conversation I propose the following points:
- Let Walmart, or whoever might employ her this summer, teach her that regular attendance and punctuality really matters.
- If some universities, trades and other institutions reserve the right to use ONLY the outcome of a comprehensive exam to determine academic standing, could the teacher of a public school not also have this right?
- Given the arbitrary allocation of 80/20 term to exam weightings, would the result of these weightings not at best be a guideline to determining final course standing? (Had it been 60/40 like many provincial exams, she would have passed easily.)
- With so many variables impacting the regular course grade such as homework completion, attendance, family stability, hunger, poverty, social issues, maturity, drugs and alcohol, would a solid exam result not be considered especially valid to measure the extent to which a student does or does not meet the learning outcomes?
- Could we develop grading policies that allow teachers to use all tools at their disposal to determine the most accurate grade at any given time?
- Could we stop proposing that one established, and arbitrary, weighting system provides fairness to all?
Until this same time next year…