Public school system fails when university students fail mid-terms

For some time now I have been saying that elementary and secondary school districts who have dropped, or are considering dropping, the fall report cards for “progress reports” are taking the easy way out. Why? They are not preparing students for life beyond high school when they give them grades like “Needs improvement.” That is a cop-out because, while it may not offend the student or his or her parents, it doesn’t teach the child a thing. Whereas, a C grade with accompanying comments on how to actually improve to a B or better, would actually mean something.  

I have also been saying that too much emphasis on standardized tests and rote learning can result in cheating or hinder individuals once they come face to face with the real world –i.e., they are not prepared to think independently, abstractly or creatively when faced with essay exams on university mid-terms in October and November of their first year. Funny that. How come universities can have serious mid-term exams in October and November and yet elementary and secondary teachers apparently don’t yet know enough about their students’ progess by then?

Well, its long past time for the political correctness in the school system to stop and for lawmakers, school administrators and teachers’ unions to recognize and restore the notion of individual differences. Remember the Bell Curve and normal distribution? Yes, in our Western societies, we all have an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, culture, colour or religion. But, and here is the politically incorrect but, we are not all created equal intellectually. 

Which is why there is currently a post-secondary dilemma. Yes, professors are now being pressured to give higher marks than they used to. And, yes, first year mid-terms have a way of getting rid of students who are not going to do well. However, they also tend to get rid of very capable students who simply don’t know how, either to prepare for their exams or how to complete them successfully.

Remember the problem I mentioned above about rote learning. University exams require abstract and creative thinking and you are either right or you are wrong. No fuzziness. No social promotion. Get it or get out. Just like employers. For those in business, time is money. New employees either learn their jobs or they are fired. There are no accommodations. I once saw a sign on a staff room bulletin board that said: “Be good or be gone.” Yes, it’s a cold competitive world out there. But, that is reality!

In any event, when first year university students do badly or fail their mid terms, it is the universities that are having to come up with programs and strategies to stop students from dropping out — essentially doing the work that those in the regular public system have abrogated.

Endnote: Given that the comment full moderation feature is activated at the moment, there may be a short delay in approving them. My thanks for everyone’s patience!

6 thoughts on “Public school system fails when university students fail mid-terms

  1. I agree Sandy but my reading of the “Bell Curve” of intellectual ability tells me that 5-10 % of us are ‘gifted’ with superiour ability, 5-10% of us are ‘limited’ by our intellectual gifts but 80-90% of us form that huge section of the bell not on the edges and considered the normal range. In other words 80-90% of us has the intellectual fire power to complete university. The fact that far less than that DO complete university is accounted for by opportunity, encouragement, discipline, motivation and interest.

    Some of this is within the role of the state (school, income support….) and some of it tests the character of the individual. Some people in Mensa for example, are happy to be cab drivers, bar keepers and so on.

    I don’t think we should be in the business of smashing dreams although we DO need to point out that university is quite difficult and requires some level of dedication even for the brigher bulbs amongst us.

    Notwithstanding all of this we ought to be in the business of facilitating university entrance even when it involves second chances, remediation, and the removal of any financial or preferrential barriers.

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  2. The one fascinating aspect of university is that no one re-examined university when OAC was eliminated a number of years ago. In the US, to my knowledge, a BA is achieved after 4 years of university and an honours degree after 5 years. In Ontario, it continues to be a BA after 3 years. The elimination of OAC should have meant that it would take a student 4 years to attain a BA. There is a gap that was created when OAC was eliminated and no one has found a way to fix it.

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  3. Matt — Re the gap — Interesting. As this Wikipedia link indicates, Grade 13 ended in 1988 and the OACs by the Harris gov’t in 1999 — based on a recommendation by the Rae Gov’t Royal Commission on Learning. In fact, I can remember how crammed my university was for the year there were two graduating groups in first year — those with the OAC credits and those without. Apparently, there were supposed to be ten extra days added on to each of the new four year program to make up for the “gap.” I would guess that is news to you. Funny how politicians think it is easy to somehow drop six full-time credits and then magically fit them in the fourth year — which is already busy.

    No wonder today’s high school grads are struggling in university — when you add that to not understanding what an A really means. Not average. Not good. Not very good either. But perfect, in the sense that nothing else could be added to make it better — thorough research, a well sourced argument, excellent sources and citations and perfect spelling and grammar. The whole package as it were.

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  4. If someone is reading this who just got hammered on one of more mid term exams, please don’t give up. You are just learning the ropes.

    Go the library and check out a test from previous years for the same course and the same prof. Study it and then make up your own pretend questions. Then, answer those questions. That is what is called a test-taking strategy. There are many others too.

    Multiple choice are tricky. Figure out the answer BEFORE you look at the three or four possible answers. And, then go with your first and immediate impression. If that doesn’t work, go the university counselling office and sign up for a course on how to survive university.

    University is not high school. You are on your own. You can go to class or you can sleep in and skip. But, in the end, every class you miss, you will be missing something important. Also, do your readings. No, you cannot read everything. Check out table of contents, indexes and first paragraphs, then read the most important elements.

    Oh, and one last thing. Visit each one of your professors and lab/seminar leaders and tell them you are struggling but want to do well. They are human afterall. I often had students drop by and chat.In fact, when I knew they wanted to do well, I would go out of my way to make sure they did — even if it meant they had to do a make up assignment. It is not sucking up. It is selling your own abilities and dreams and there is a difference — a public relations skill you will definitely need if you go on to graduate work and find yourself with a thesis committee!

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  5. We forget that we’ve papered over the “gr.13 gap” by allowing students a 5th Victory Lap which is an additional year to Gr. 12 for those who choose to take it….which is a majority in our high school. To my knowledge nothing forbids a student who needs to, to take a 5th year.

    I can also tell you that post-secondaries are reacting to the lack of preparedness by offering students help re: exam preparedness, studying, and basic skills catch-up classes which in the case of the university one of my kids attends is full to the brim.

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  6. Doing a fifth year, or an extra semester is pretty typical. What actually helps is the extra time adds to a student’s maturity to understand what is different in university.

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