Saturday, October 17, 2009

MLA Blasts "Social Passing" Policy in N.W.T.

As an educator, this CBC story about social passing caught my attention. Having taught in 3 provinces and 2 territories over the course of my career this is phenomenon is definitely not unique to the Northwest Territories. All I can say is that in my experience, "social passing" simply doesn't work. I've seen no real evidence of it and proponents of it always give the same old tired line of how its best for the student to be with their peers rather than being held back. They claim there is research advocating "social passing" as the best option but never cite the research.

I won't say anything further other than education works best when you have teachers, parents and students working together. Clearly, in many educational districts across this country, we are a long way from this ideal.


Meandering Michael said...

The students KNOW they're going to get passed if they show up, so there's no incentive for effort.

In the smaller communities, the 12-year-olds hang out with the 18-year-olds anyways, so they're always with their peers. So much for that argument.

Besides, has anyone ever done a study that shows how good someone's self-esteem is when they're in Grade 10 with a Grade 4 reading level? It isn't pretty and it doesn't do anything to help create a functioning classroom environment.

Granted, I understand that there may be other factors at play in some cases (learning disorders, FASD, etc.), where the pass/fail needs to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, but to just pass everyone? Sheesh.

A lot of damage has been done and there is a huge spectrum of levels in each NWT classroom. Now, how to fix it?

Way Way Up said...

You raise a couple of points I had totally forgot to mention in my original post. Thanks. My first year teacher I recall being quite shocked when several students told me they didn't care if they failed grade 8......simply because they said they had friends in any class in the school (it was a grade 7 to 12 school) so passing or failing didn't matter to them.

I'm not sure how well-known this is but I know that in far too many cases, teachers aren't ALLOWED to keep students back even if there is every reason that they should be. I've worked in school with a "no kid is allowed to be held back policy" and another where students could be held back if a parent felt their child was not ready for the next grade. The teacher could recommend holding a child back to a parent but ultimately whether this happened or not was the parent's decision. I've also worked in schools where principal's override teachers' decisions/recommendations with regard to this issue.

I know first hand that students aren't served simply by pushing them ahead. I've seen evidence of that every school day for the past decade.

So what to do? Unfortunately with education being a provincial matter in Canada there will never be a uniform way of doing things when it comes to this issue. I think that proper supports need to be in place....and this can vary widely depending on the school, the board and jurisdiction.

Many schools are good at identifying students. Program Support Teachers are generally older, very experienced people. Unfortunately, the skill level of the Classroom Assistants, who work directly with a student in the majority of cases, can vary widely. I've worked with ones with full education degrees and ones that haven't even graduated high school themselves.

I think parents also need to make sure their child attends regularly. Students on modified education plans, the ones that need the most help, tend to attend quite sporadically, if at all, especially once they hit grade 8-9 in my experience. It doesn't take long for poor attending to become habitual and this of course just compounds problems down the road. The student falls into a vicious circle -- they don't attend because they don't have the skills to help them understand and when they do attend they have no clue what is going on and don't know how to catch up. Parents must be onside and ensure regular attendance.

Schools in turn must have people in place who are qualified. Minimum standards of education and professionalism must be put in place. Plans must be made to make sure the material a student needs to know is covered AND those plans must be followed up on. Finally this idiotic thinking that a student will simply "catch up" the following year has to end. While it may give educators fuzzy feelings that they are "being nice", in the end this does more harm to a student than good.

There was one other point I was going to make but it's slipped my mind at the moment. I have much to say on this issue Rather than turning this comment into another blog post I'll simply leave things at this for now.