The negative impact of “no-fail” policies

School “no-fail” policies are multi-dimensional. They can mean getting a passing grade on an assignment even though it was handed in late or incomplete. Or, they can mean promoting a child, or “transferring” them as the case may be, to the next grade when they are not ready. Whatever they mean, teachers and parents don’t like them. Yet, “no fail” policies are firmly in place in all provinces, territories and school districts across Canada.

Manitoba to reverse the “course grading” no fail policy

So, kudos to the Province of Manitoba for considering reversing the “course grading” no-fail policy. However, that province’s Education Minister, Nancy Allan, doesn’t go far enough. She still seems convinced that pushing a child to the next grade, even when they are clearly not ready, is still acceptable.

Well, it is not. No-fail is what it is — kids never get a chance to learn from their mistakes, mature or truly understand what it takes to succeed. Moreover, they don’t learn brainstorming skills (how to generate ideas), organizational skills, synthesizing skills, what it means to be motivated and/or how to set personal goals to get work done on time.

Callers to the Dave Rutherford radio show 

For example, when I was on the Dave Rutherford show on Tuesday, May 18th at 1pm (ET), guest host Roy Green had a teacher call in to the show. Referring to herself as Rita, she explained how she didn’t believe in deducting marks or giving zero when young people did not hand their work in on time or didn’t do as instructed. She defended that policy on the basis that punctuality and attitude were behavioural objectives, as opposed to academic ones.

Importance of development & readiness

Pardon me? I couldn’t disagree more with that view or that approach. What is going on here? Are teachers being told to simply throw cognitive-developmental theory out the window? I mean, learning certain behavioural skills are about readiness and maturity and completely interconnected with academic achievement.

As a result, no-fail policies are setting children and youth up for a much bigger failure later in life — and to me that is not only abandonment of the purposes of public education but a betrayal by those designated with ensuring the well being of all children.

The unteachables

If readers have doubts about the negative impact of “no-fail” policies once students are finished high school, then I would highly recommend they read the article in Macleans by Todd Pettigrew called “The Unteachables.”

I simply don’t believe most students are unteachable. Rather, I think that when students don’t have to finish assignments or are transferred to the next grade before they are ready, they are simply not being taught the skills and knowledge they need to cope in the world beyond high school.  In other words, in my opinion, the young man in the article wasn’t unteachable, he simply needed the abstract critical thinking skills needed to go beyond the obvious.    

University of Toronto online goal setting

Which is why I found it interesting that, as Joyann Callender writes, the University of Toronto has found that an online “visualization” program to help struggling post-secondary students think abstractly by setting educational goals is working. Meaning, that it has now been left to the post-secondary system to teach the students the behavioural and attitudinal skills they should have been taught in the elementary and secondary system. The results? Grades improve and fewer students drop out.

Stopping the negative impact of no-fail policies

So, to all teachers and educational administrators out there who may stop by and read this blog, please think about that. By ignoring the affect and behavioural objectives in the classroom, you are setting students up for certain failure later in life. Is that what you want? Somehow, I don’t think so.

We are not a “no-fail” society, no matter how hard some try to make it that way. Some people are smarter than others, better athletes than others or more gifted musicians and visual artists. That is just a fact of life. While we may be equal before the law, we are not all equal in ability and motivation. In other words, we don’t all deserve a ribbon just for being present.  

Endnotes: Here is the archive for what I have written on this topic before. No-fail policies are completely ideological and political. In Ontario, for example, they were put in place so that high school graduation rates would be higher and drop out rates lower — thus, supposedly, keeping  a promise made by the Dalton McGuinty Liberal government.

c/p Jack’s Newswatch.

4 thoughts on “The negative impact of “no-fail” policies

  1. What is socialist about no fail policies? I am a socialist and I consider them to be misguided liberal policies.

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  2. What is socialist about no fail policies? I am a socialist and I consider them to be misguided liberal policies.

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  3. No-fail policies are socialist because they are all about “equality” according to progressives — everyone being treated the same and the distrust for competition and excellence and any type of meritocracy.

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  4. No-fail policies are socialist because they are all about “equality” according to progressives — everyone being treated the same and the distrust for competition and excellence and any type of meritocracy.

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