Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Private-school credits

This popped up in the last week, and the fallout continues. Now, Minister Kathleen Wynne has indicated all private-school secondary credits and grades will now be flagged on student transcripts as 'P' to indicate their origin. The CBC Toronto online piece is here, which includes Wynne's interview on Ontario Today, as a Real Audio-format streaming file.
The Star appears to have broken the story on Aug. 11.
From the CBC online:
"We're trying to bring more transparency to this," Wynne said, adding that only a small minority of schools are at risk of not meeting provincial standards.
The government is also studying how to define a school and distinguish schools from tutoring services through criteria such as classroom hours.
There are 315 private schools in Ontario that offer credits toward an Ontario Secondary School Diploma, and must have passed inspection by the Ministry of Education in order to do so. However, the inspection does not deal with health, equipment, safety practices, or staffing issues.
This has drawn some interesting reaction. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation is quoted in the original Star piece, with president Ken Coran pulling a suitable rabbling tongue-lashing of the situation.
Never ones to miss an opportunity, the Society for Quality Education also e-mail-blasted a statement to its lists today, which read in part:
Now, ALL those private schools' grades will be tainted with the suspicion that they are inferior and not to be trusted. While some grade inflation may be happening, this certainly cannot be the case in every situation. Without concrete data, properly collected and studied, this makes the “P” stand for punitive.
Why doesn’t the minister flag grades of kids who take public school summer courses or who hang around for the “victory lap” fifth year of high school in the same way? In both of those cases grades might be inflated, or so we’ve heard, anecdotally.
Colleges and universities are already suspicious of the province's "no fail" policies. The unpreparedness of secondary students has made remediation the norm at post-secondary institutions.
A better solution would be exit examinations for all high school students. The Scarlet P will not help.
The SQE's concern may be on the money-- the approach is a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to weeding out the crappy private schools that offer credits for cash. A stronger inspection and followup system might serve as a better method of enforcement and a deterrent. As to the point on those victory lap students, I graduated in an OAC world, so I don't actually know what a transcript looks like when you take a credit a second time to improve your mark.
Victory lappers aren't trying to cheat the system however, as I don't imagine most teachers upgrade their assessments for students taking a credit the second time around. Which means those returning students would actually have to do better, and earn higher marks as a result, not just show up (let's stay away from the credit-integrity discussion for a second to let me make that point).
The 'unpreparedness' statement, backed up by a few vocal post-secondary faculty, doesn't merit the generalization. Certainly, when education was far more local, in the day of OACs and when, from memory, there was a dropout pathway and a 'we're channelling you for university even if you'll never finish a degree at one' path, I was still stunned in my J-100 class to spend a whole lecture being reminded of basic English grammar.
The 'P' flag doesn't offend me in any way, however better investigation, inspection and enforcement would be the better solution.


RetDir said...

The current OST requires that the transcript (report card) record, for Grades 11 and 12, "courses successfully completed,
courses repeated, courses failed, and courses from which the student has withdrawn." So students may take a course a second time, but the transcript will include a record of the first attempt as well. I don't know what the university or college admissions process does with courses that have been repeated. However, most 'victory laps' are done to complete credit requirements, not to enhance marks. Many students in the math and sciences streams also do a victory lap in order to get a more balanced program - it is difficult to graduate after four years in the that stream if you also want to do things like art, music, phys ed, etc.
In terms of university admissions, and the perennial whine regarding the unpreparedness of students for university, I think it is probably true that universities are accepting students they would not have accepted 20 years ago. This is not due to grade inflation, but to the economic pressures that higher enrolment satisfy (more students = more dollars). This issue is easily within the control of universities to solve - stop relying on high schools to stream kids, and run their own admissions process. Then they could select the students they deem prepared, and stop complaining about the quality of high school graduates. However, they are exceedingly unlikely to want to drop their enrolments/revenues, so this won't happen, and we can expect to hear the whining continue.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget though that those victory laps can be taken for other reasons than upgrading. Many do so because they can, or they either haven't decided on their direction, or they simply don't feel ready to move on.

Let's also not forget that even though the gov't says that it's supporting a four year program for graduation that it's got to stand by keeping kids in school until age 18 plan.

The fair thing to do is to flag all schools in the same way they intend to flag private schools because they do exist in public schools too.

If we're going to enforce this, then the public system needs to be included and put under the same microscope.

I agree with RetDirector's suggestion that if post-secondaries wanted to do something about their own standards of acceptance they could do so..but they will not because it affects their bottom-line.