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Survey fails no-fail policy

Whether one exists is the big question

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A new survey shows most Manitoba adults oppose a no-fail policy in schools, but the existence of such a policy is itself a mystery.

Education Minister Nancy Allan says the province does not have a written no-fail policy.

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Even the teachers' union acknowledges there is nothing in writing.

But, despite the lack of visible evidence, many parents and even teachers believe there is a policy that promotes children to keep them with their age group, moving up inexorably through the grade system regardless of academic achievement.

The official word from the department of education is that some divisions practise no-fail, even though the province does not have a written policy.

There is no available information showing how many divisions mandate no-fail.

An Manitoba Teachers' Society telephone poll of 800 random adults being published in this month's edition of Manitoba Teacher shows 76 per cent of respondents oppose a no-fail policy.

The survey posed the question on the basis the practice of no-fail is a fact.

In addition, 24.4 per cent of teachers surveyed said they have been pressured to pass or change marks for students who did not deserve to be promoted.

Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen demanded Wednesday the Selinger government drop its alleged no-fail policy.

"Success in today's world is based on how much our kids know," McFadyen said.

"Ironically, a 'no-fail' policy fails students because many graduate without having mastered basic academic skills and therefore aren't set up for success later in life."

A Frontier Centre for Public Policy study conducted by high school teacher Michael Zwaagstra and University of Manitoba education Prof. Rod Clifton says no-fail and social promotion are policy here and should be ditched in favour of promoting kids based on academic achievement.

At its convention in May, MTS will receive a task force report on teachers' workloads, including a report from a subcommittee on no-fail and social promotion.

"I suspect some (divisions) do have written policies," said Manitoba Teachers' Society president Pat Isaak.

"It's about the integrity of what the teacher says. The teacher is in the best position to address children," Isaak said.

Isaak said the issue should not be whether to pass or fail, but how the school can meet a child's needs if the student lacks abilities and can't meet curriculum outcomes.

She said another factor is whether the resources exist to help the teacher help a student.

"It's not a one size fits all."

"Children know that they're -- I don't want to say behind, that's too strong a word," she said. "The real question we should be asking is, why does that kid have a 47 and what needs to be done to get that child to a 77?

"That's where the resources should go. There will always be more kids who need more help, who need more time," Isaak said.

Isaak said it is rare for a student to be "held back" in elementary school, though MTS is not aware how often that happens.

Students do not fail a year of high school, though they may need to repeat a credit, she said.



Is there or isn't there?

Here's what Manitoba Education says about a no-fail policy:

"Manitoba Education does not have assessment policies or guidelines pertaining to social passing or 'no-fail' policies. The department considers this a school division matter."

Here's what the Manitoba Teachers' Society asked 800 Manitoba adults in a telephone poll last month:

"Currently in Manitoba, students are promoted to the next grade whether or not they pass all of the academic requirements. This 'no-fail' policy was introduced because it is believed that students who are held back a grade are generally worse off than if they were promoted. Do you support or oppose the 'no-fail' policy? Would that be strongly or moderately support/oppose?"

MTS says 76 per cent of respondents were opposed.

MTS also asked:

"If your child did not meet all of the academic requirements to be promoted to the next grade, would you prefer to have them held back and repeat a year of school or would you prefer they advanced to the next grade?"

MTS says 75 per cent would want their child held back.

MTS says that in a survey of 800 Manitoba teachers the union conducted last month, "24.4 per cent of teachers said that they had been asked to promote or grant credit to a student against their best professional judgment. When asked if they have adjusted a final mark for a student, 19 per cent of teachers said they have had a final mark adjusted."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2010 B1

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