Waterloo’s engineering program discounts grades from two Oakville schools


It ought to be no surprise that universities have discovered over time a mark from one high school is not equal to one from a different one. A recent article in the Toronto Star flags Waterloo’s engineering programme, one of many toughest to get into in Canada, as having developed an adjustment factor. Among those whose marks the programme discounts the most were two Oakville schools: King’s Christian Collegiate and St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School. Shockingly, Toronto’s prestigious Upper Canada College also found itself singled out as needing a substantial mark discount when evaluating applications.

Back in the 1960s, when the boomers who shaped the existing Ontario were in high school, about 3% of students became Ontario scholars. Now it’s a lot more than 60%. Kids may be smarter, and teaching may be better, but it is not believable that students leaving high school are that a lot more able. Clearly, good marks are easier to get than they used to be, and in a few schools more than others.

Higher marks result in a lot of problems. It becomes very difficult to distinguish between the best students when there are so most of them. Maybe even worse, students are led to believe they’re more prepared than they are actually and face sometimes substantial and life-changing disappointment if they arrive in post-secondary education.

This recent Maclean’s article gives an insight into what this may mean to students facing the reality of post-secondary standards, a few of whom determine they should not have experienced the institution in the first place. Nevertheless, universities and colleges can merely raise their admission standards, which is what they will have done as mark inflation has run rampant across Ontario.

However, when that inflation is uneven from one school to another, it creates the post-secondary institutions’ job a lot more difficult. In line with the Star’s article, Waterloo is rolling out its adjustment factor using the performance of students from the given school in the initial year of their engineering programme as time passes. It really needs enough students to help make the comparison meaningful and set up a pattern.

Before 1960s, province-wide exams, known as “departmentals,” contributed to the senior high school leaving marks of Ontario students. They were graded anonymously, after being shipped to Toronto, by teachers apart from those who had taught the students.

While Scholastic Aptitude Tests (now simply called SATs) in america assessed capability to learn, the departmental exams assessed achievement, which high school graduation marks generally represent. These exams were similar to Advanced-level (A-level) exams in England, or Baccalaur�at exams in France, which continue to exist (as in most Europe), and in those countries produce 100% of the marks given to universities and colleges for admission. (The International Baccalaureate (IB) works on these principles and is available in Ontario. Many top international universities have greater confidence such evaluations than in marks assigned by schools with that they have little if any experience.)

These exams are country-wide. Oakville Ontario in all schools, including parents homeschooling children, understand that they will face these tests. This eliminates grade inflation in earlier years and in mid-year evaluation: grades that do not truly represent the student’s potential will be found out ultimately. Virtually every country has them except Canada: even america has the SAT to help post-secondary institutions compare students’ capabilities whatever the school they attended.

The arguments against such exams are many. Students face lots of pressure, and their future is determined by their performance in some three hour written exams. Such exams favour visual learners and can close the door for able students whose abilities will vary. There are concerns about “teaching to the test”, limiting teachers’ abilities to explore topics and problem-solving techniques. Proponents point out that at some stage you will have such an evaluation to graduate from university or to gain a specialist qualification, and delaying it serves no purpose. Further, they point to the evils of grade inflation which includes obviously run rampant in Ontario since such exams were abandoned.

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