‘Quadmesters’ are burning out our high school students

Posted on November 5, 2020 in Education Delivery System

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In Ontario, the majority of high schools operate on a semester system, which means students in Grades 9 through 12 study four courses for 20 weeks and then switch to four new courses in the second 20 weeks of the school year.

This year, students were forced into a “quadmester” system, which means two new courses every 10 weeks.

The quadmester structure shrinks the amount of time a student has to learn the content, concepts, skills and practice these to become proficient. Students are now expected to learn 110 scheduled hours of course matter in 10 weeks.

For students transitioning from Grade 8 to Grade 9 this year, it is learning at warp speed: where they had 10 months to learn expectations in Grades K to 8, they now have 10 weeks in the first quarter of Grade 9.

The result as we approach the 10-week mark? The cracks are showing, the stress points emerging. Teachers introduce a lesson one day and two days later assess students on the concept. Teaching to the test.

How much can a student learn and improve in 10 weeks? Teachers are stressed by an accelerated grading time frame and students are stressed with accelerated learning deadlines. Express high school education.

Ten weeks of math in the fall of 2020 with the next course possibly not offered until fall 2021. Learning has become so disjointed there is almost no value to it. One student’s parent complained to the teacher about the student’ low grade in the first two assignments and the marks were adjusted from 55 per cent to 85 per cent.

In another case, a teacher asked her in-person class of Grade 12 chemistry students why they bothered taking her course if they were not pursuing chemistry in post-secondary studies. Eight students heard her question from the 15 who were in front of her nine weeks ago. The rest are no longer coming to class. Who is more disengaged, teachers or students? The truth is, both.

If the high achievers are stressed and anxious, what about students with special needs? Students who require more time, not less? Or the international students paying tuition?

Since mid-March, the education sector has had to pivot to offer learning in virtual format on an enormous scale without notice. It is hard to pivot when there is a deeply entrenched anchor of fossilized practice, institutional mindset and operational paralysis that has engulfed the education sector for over 50 years.

COVID-19 has shown how desperately the education system needs to offer more options for learning for all different types and abilities of students: full yearlong learning high schools for those who need in-person and more time; semesters for those who can hopscotch through high school; virtual learning for those with high anxiety created by chaotic school environments; and a hybrid option to capture hands-on skills and remote learning.

Monika Ferenczy is an education consultant in private practice helping parents with education planning www.horizoned.ca


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