Last July 20th, many of you might recall if you were watching the supper hour newscasts of any of Montreal’s three English TV stations, along with CJAD and CBC Radio in their morning newscasts with our assistance, the news broke that about 2000 high school students in the LBPSB, along with students in other boards, got the surprise of their lives, when that week in the mail they found out they had failed their year despite having passed on the year’s average in the report cards that they got from their local schools at the end of June.
Students had to go to summer school and do re-writes as all these subjects are mandatory credits to get the high school leaving certificate. Parents also had to shell out $210.00 per course (based on the summer fee schedule of the Board website), not including exam fees, and in some cases, cancelled summer vacation trips. The maximum family fee was $500.00.
The subjects in question were history, math, and science in Sec 4, similar problems were also reported for Sec 5 students, but it seemed that Sec 4 students were mainly affected. It was the first year that these exams were uniform across the province, and most Boards blamed it on the new curriculum reform having reached the high school grades.
Some students who were interviewed during that day outside of John Rennie High, one of the summer school locations mentioned they learnt some of the subject content only a few days before the end of school saying they weren’t prepared.. One Verdun student, Autumn Darey, who is a student-rep on the Beurling Academy Governing Board, was interviewed by the stations that day, couldn’t believe it when she opened the mail that week as she got her transcript from the Education Ministry, and this for a student who tutors other students.
“We are told that we passed but I got a failing mark, I had a final mark in the high 70’s for history and 63 in math”, mentioned Autumn who started crying when she saw that mark for her favorite subject. She got failing marks of 57 and 44 respectively.
Autumn’s mother, Chrystal Henderson, who sits on the BA Governing Board and is President of the Home and School, didn’t seem to buy the curriculum reform argument and wasn’t charitable in her comments. “If all those kids failed, then there is something wrong with the exam and not the kids. We were told that the Ministry brought the marks down as they felt the exams were marked too leniently, and so with the marks brought down, that means she failed”, stated Mrs. Henderson, and this would seem to be a slap on the wrist for those correcting the exams.
This would also seem to confirm what we have been told by several people that the government seems to have moved into the business of moderating exams. So with schools opening their doors for another year next Wednesday, the June exam snafu has raised some legitimate questions. So we recently decided to ask these questions to Miss Suanne Stein Day, Chairperson of the LBPSB.
The June report cards reflected an average for the year but did include the actual June exam but the Ministry transcript reflected a combination of the year’s average and the June exam. To this day, students and parents have never been told what the actual standalone marks for the exams themselves were. So we wondered about all this.
“You are correct about the end of year report cards and MELS transcripts. MELS has never published the standalone mark on the exam and we do not have any specific access to these marks. However, parents and students were informed of the weighting of the school work and exam results at the beginning of the school year. They vary by course and I don’t have the specific factors, but with that information, one should be able to calculate the exam mark”, stated Miss Stein Day. This seems strange to not know the marks of the actual exam itself.
This year as it has been mentioned, these exams were uniform across the province, so the question here is who is on the committee that creates the exam question. Is it a committee of teachers from the English and French Boards, or teachers and consultants? Who approves the final draft of the exams?
Miss Stein Day continued, “MELS created committees of school teachers from French and English schools to write the exams and the marking guides. (Consultants may have been included as, in our case anyway, consultants are qualified teachers). Teachers in each school mark the exams. They must strictly follow the marking guide.”
Another troubling question raised by many parents and students was the money factor. With 2000 students having to do the summer sessions and if all them were in the $500.00 maximum, this would bring in $100,000 prompting one upset caller to a morning talk show to call this a cash grab.
So this begged the question of what is the actual cost of the summer sessions. A peak at the Board budget doesn’t show any entries for expenses and revenues for summer schools
“Our school administrators are always sensitive to individual family needs and if the summer school prices are prohibitive we make arrangements on a case by case basis. The board does not have a P&L for Summer School. Each year we plan to break even and in the past we have usually run a small deficit. There are certainly no profits”, said Miss Stein Day.
“This year, we had again hoped to break even, but with the opening of an additional centre, requiring some additional bussing, more teachers and maintenance staff, and an additional coordinator, we are expecting to once again show a small loss on summer school.
There is no breakdown of revenues for summer school. All revenues are for the course fees paid by parents. We will not break down the expenses, primarily because we do not discuss salaries with the community and salaries form a large part of the expenses. Suffice it to say no one is making a profit and our staff are fairly compensated for the work they do in summer school,” continued the Board Chairperson also adding that there is no funding from the Ministry for summer school.
This still left the question unanswered of what is at least the total cost to run summer school. It should also be noted that there are fees for the extra bussing, which is mainly for off-island students. It should also be mentioned here that there is a separate summer fee scale for teachers and they are paid per course, which was mentioned to us by a former summer school teacher.
With the return of staff and the various department directors from vacation, and, along with Ministry officials, all parties will be looking at what went wrong with this year’s exams and try to avoid the anguish for students and parents alike next summer.
As of this posting, the agenda for the August council meeting this coming Monday is not up on the Board website, but it would seem to be a good bet this issue will be discussed. It’s also a safe bet that this highly charged item will be on the agenda at the first meeting of the Central Parents’ Committee.
Meanwhile, we are happily informed by Autumn Darey and her mother that Autumn passed her re-writes for history and math, and luckily were informed by the school when asking about the results, as students hadn’t received their results for the re-writes as of August 22nd from the Ministry. At least, Autumn will now be able to concentrate on this her graduating year.