Researcher Michael Zwaagstra from the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies in PEI is criticizing what he calls the blanket policy of promoting students to the next grade regardless of a passing grade. He comments:
"this practice of grading students regardless of their performance, known as social promotion or placing, has become a blanket policy in many school districts across Canada, including P.E.I."
"Certainly we should start from a basic premise that a pass should be earned, that if you're going to move from one grade to the next you have to be at least at the level where you have mastered at least most of what you need to master"He is talking about middle school but presumably if a student is pushed through at the lower grades then the problem is inherited by high school teachers. For me, the question revolves around ability and motivation. Speaking as a high school teacher, if a student has a cognitive learning disability then it is unfair to expect an equal level of performance to a peer without that difficulty. However, if the issue is related to low motivation and behavioural issues, then in general I believe I'm not doing a student a favour by simply giving them a pass.
In teaching we talk a lot about motivation. We can see when students are not motivated or when they would rather be anywhere else but sitting in class. Motivated students pay attention. They want to learn and are eager to do well. Having motivation is at least as important as aptitude or ability. The most important sources of motivation are internal and come from passion and interest, instead of external threats of failing or keeping one's parents of your back. It is aided especially when the lesson is seen as relevant to ones life. For each person this motivation is variable. Students constantly ask me about their marks especially close to report cards. Often they will ask me: do I have a good mark? Before I answer I like to ask them what their idea of a good mark entails. For some people its a 90 while others are ready to high five if they get a 70, and a select few are satisfied with a 50. The mark speaks to their motivation and it also tells me what I can expect from them in terms of effort. There is no point expecting a 90 from somebody who is perfectly happy to go home with a 50 unless for some reason their motivation levels change.
There are students who do not have even the basic motivation to make the bare minimum of 50, or they try skating so close to minimum effort that in the end they fail. Passing students in this situation is not helping them. Maturity is a process of coming to terms with reality. Passing a student who has not earned the grade allows them to continue in an unreality that says their behaviour does not matter.
All behaviour is spiritual. What do I mean by that? Human life is a process of adapting and growing in our behaviour to meet the conditions of reality. The basic spiritual principal of you reap what you sow makes a connection between our behaviour and the result. Low motivation can reflect a spiritual condition in the student in which they believe you can sow minimum effort without reaping a negative consequence. This is simply not true. In the short term, it may appear this way to the student if they are simply given a pass, but they will reap a higher price later by not developing this basic maturity skill. Therefore, failing a student can be a corrective message that teaches a deeper lesson about the nature of life.