U Waterloo’s grade deflation hurts student success

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A school that arbitrarily decreases grades harms its students’ long-term academic prospects.

The University of Waterloo’s engineering program has recently taken action to attempt to mitigate school-specific grade inflation. The university decreases marks from high schools where students have historically performed poorly in their first year of engineering. At Grimsby Secondary School, for instance, U Waterloo bumps down student grades by 27.1 per cent.

While nobly intended, this blanket action has negative repercussions for students who don’t deserve to be painted with a broad brush.

Success at university depends overwhelmingly on individual habits and aptitude, and a student’s high school doesn’t determine their success. Waterloo’s misguided policy doesn’t target the high schools that inflate grades­—it targets students.

Consequently, the issue of grade inflation requires more careful thought.

Marking discrepancies are largely contingent on factors ranging from a school’s urban or rural location and its ability to measure itself against other schools in the area.

Waterloo’s grading system over-simplifies the issue at hand for these schools. A student from a small public school with fewer supports than an urban private school might face culture shock when entering university.

They shouldn’t be punished for this—it in no way indicates a student’s intelligence or diligence.

That said, grade inflation remains a pervasive issue that should be regulated. If high grades are handed to students indiscriminately, they won’t be prepared for the academic pressures of university—and they’ll be more likely to fail classes.

Provincial high school education systems vary wildly. Theoretically, every public school should yield similar outcomes for every student within a province. As unequal educational outcomes abound across provinces, it’s up to institutions like school boards to alleviate these pressures.

With sufficient budgets and research, district school boards should launch an investigation into school grading systems. This could have a wide-reaching impact on fairer marking across provinces, pre-emptively protecting students from penalization once they apply to universities. 

Another solution is greater university emphasis on the writing portion of the application process. At Queen’s—particularly within the commerce and concurrent education programs—admissions are heavily impacted by a student’s personal statement of experience (PSE).

This brief writing exercise asks students to detail their formative activities and involvement, from extra-curricular endeavours to personal values and motivations.

The statements provide much-needed context for the grades on a student’s transcript. They consider the student as a person rather than a series of numbers.

If students are treated as products of their school’s historical performance when applying for a university program, they stand little chance of success.

Penalizing students based on their school isn’t the answer Canadian universities should have for solving educational disparity within their respective provinces.

Journal Editorial Board

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