Grade-fixing in Quebec schools rampant, say teachers

Widespread grade-fixing across Quebec devalues diplomas awarded in this province and undermines teachers' professional autonomy, say teachers.

Pressure to pass students has grown in past four years

Teachers' union backs claim teachers are pushed to inflate grades. 2:48

Widespread grade-fixing across Quebec devalues diplomas awarded in this province and undermines teachers’ professional autonomy, said a Montreal-area teacher.

In an exclusive interview with Daybreak Montreal, teacher Catherine — whose name has been changed for fear of loss of employment — said that she’s been routinely told by her school’s administration to award grades higher than what she previously assessed.

"We’re being flat-out told to not give any grades between 55 and 59. Either fail the student at 50, or make him pass at 60," she told Daybreak host Mike Finnerty.

"And I have given 55 to students because that’s the grade they actually had, and I come back the year after and for some reason, they’re being pushed into the next year, so obviously my grade was changed by somebody."

She said giving a grade so close to the passing grade of 60 leaves wiggle room for parents to complain to the school.

Her allegations ring true with Pierre St-Germain, president of the Fédération autonome des enseignants.

"This isn’t a new phenomenon," he said.

A secondary school science teacher of 25 years before becoming president of the FAE, St-Germain recounted being pressured to changing grades in his early days of teaching.

But, he said, it’s become much more pronounced in the past four years.

Bill 88 to blame?

In 2008, Quebec’s National Assembly passed Bill 88 to amend the province’s Education Act.

The bill places a greater emphasis on graduation rates and success agreements.

St-Germain said this pressure has touched off a chain reaction of events.

"The minister puts pressure on the school boards to improve their success rates; the school boards put pressure on the school administrations so that in their schools, the success rate is higher," he said.

"And [as a result], the school administration puts pressure on the teachers," he added.

Both Catherine and St-Germain said it’s demotivating for teachers and undermines their professional autonomy.

"We have degrees in this; we’re professionals," Catherine said.

"It is a bit insulting to be told how to do our jobs or having people that have no idea what our jobs entail to ask us if it’s being done right."

St-Germain also said higher graduation rates aren’t doing anybody — other than the school boards — any favours.

"The school boards receive their [government] financing when students graduate," he said.

But the effects of passing students who should be failing are felt in the classroom and by the students themselves.

When a student moves into the next grade without having fully learned the previous grade’s curriculum, they’re lost, said Catherine.

She said greater understanding and communication between parents and teachers is key to struggling children’s success in school.

"We’re not there to fail your kids. We’re there to help you," she said.