X

SpaceLogo Sciences Participating with Arts & Culture in Education

By Samantha Dagres September 5, 2017

reforming the R-Score

Illustrated by Thomas Lugaric.

During the 1960s, the province of Quebec underwent a monumental shift economically, politically and socially, following the victory of the Quebec Liberal Party in 1960 under party leader Jean Lesage (Durocher). Amongst numerous reforms in health care, economic nationalisation (specifically of Hydro-Quebec), and federal-provincial affairs: Premier Lesage is remembered for his successes in removing the Church’s strong hold on the Quebec education system (CBC Learning). Prior to the 1960s, the Quebec education system remained under the firm control of the French Catholic Church, which was considered to be a large hindrance on the development of Quebec in the 20th century (CBC Learning). During the early 1960s, under the Duplessis government, Quebec dropout rates were the highest in Canada; after 18 years of social and political regression, Quebecers were ready to join the modern western world (CBC Learning). At the cusp of the Quiet Revolution, the Liberal government took control of the Quebec public school curriculum and implemented secular education with a new emphasis on math and sciences (Durocher). In addition, in 1967, the Liberals established the world’s first and only Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel or CEGEP system (service régional d'admission du montréal métropolitain). CEGEPs are publicly funded, two-to-three year post-secondary pre-university colleges, which offer vocational and pre-university studies for Quebec students. The justification behind this innovation to our education system is that it serves to help students decide what they want to study later on while preparing adolescents for university (Moussako).

Our unique pre-university institution, being the only one of its kind, does not abide by any North American academic structure. The alleged “perks” of this institution are that it enables CEGEP graduates to graduate with their bachelors in three years instead of the standard four, as well as be ranked based on an R-score system as opposed to a GPA. The R-score is a statistical method of ranking academic performance used in Quebec CEGEPs. Each CEGEP student is given one at the end of each completed semester; it is a mark out of 50. The R-score allegedly includes secondary IV and V marks, CEGEP marks, class averages, class standard deviations, class medians, number of students, marks of students in the same courses in other classes, marks of students in same courses in other CEGEPS, and the ranking of your CEGEP: many of which are variables outside the students control (Bureau De Coopération Interuniversitaire). The argument in favour for it is that this melting pot of arbitrary accumulative stats is a truer representational reflection of a student’s capability. Even if it were so – how does that explain the overwhelming dissatisfaction amongst the Dawson student body in regard to this ranking system?

In efforts to spark a conversation, my political action was to bring forth the grievances and confusion of students to the attention of the Academic Administration of Dawson College. I polled students, spoke to teachers and received a consensus that the majority were clueless on how the ranking process works. I wrote to two of the Academic Deans at Dawson in hopes that they might be willing to engage in a dialogue. Overall, my efforts were met with silence and apathy amongst many of the adults I confronted. While undertaking this action, I have gained a stronger sense of responsibility in fighting for the causes I believe in. However, it is clear now that what I believe is fundamentally important for the student body, might not be fundamentally important to others. It is essential to avoid having high expectations from those who have let you down, so if I have learned anything from this endeavour it is that change takes time.

The R-score is a grading system that creates a context where a 95% can be considered a “bad” grade. A system in which being 15% above class average does not guarantee a great score if the standard deviation is a percentage point above. A system where a secondary IV and V mark follows you, potentially affecting university applications. A grading system that promotes and incentivises intense rivalry between peers as opposed to collaboration and community orientation. These are the realities of Quebec’s R-score system.

Its formula is a convoluted mashup of two separate formulas: the Z-Score and the ISG, both of which consist of several different sub-formulas (Bureau De Coopération Interuniversitaire). The Z-score, for instance, is an overall average of class averages, college averages, number of students, medians and standard deviations. Its counterpart, the ISG, is the relative strength of a group, based on weighted averages and grades obtained throughout secondary school (Bureau De Coopération Interuniversitaire). The following are only the explanations available through government pamphlets; many other variables, outside the control of the student, such as CEGEP ranking, standard deviation, the academic performance of your classmates, difficulty of specific program, are all taken into account. The R-score is never explained and seldom mentioned: something no one dares to bring up until posted at the end of each semester. But yet, each and everyone one of the thousands of CEGEP students in the province rely on it as their key into the university programs of their dreams. Quebec universities do not admit Quebec students based on GPA or course grades, as is the case in other academic systems, they instead only take into consideration the R-score. There is very little public information available online or elsewhere on our grading system. These grades are in fact not calculated in-house: according to the assistant to the Dean of Social Sciences, Dawson, along with most CEGEPs, send out student marks and applicable averages to government funded companies where they calculate the R-score based on their algorithms. So the reason the elusive R-score is not discussed, unfortunately, is because most teachers and administrators alike are incapable of breaking down the faulty formula themselves.

My position on this issue is that the current model and reason for which the R-score is seldom discussed is problematic for the well being of Quebec students and the relationship between students and educators. There are obvious flaws to the current system in place, and it is an unsettling reality for students to note that their professors and administrators are unable (note: not unwilling) to explain the marks assigned to them. In my opinion, the Ministry of Education needs to re-evaluate the system and make some amendments to our arcane way of classifying students. In theory, the idea of including more than just a student’s grade and class average in determining their overall average is progressive thinking. Basing the average on merely a couple grades seems equally as arbitrary as basing them on all grades, all averages, all standard deviations, all class medians, all CEGEP rankings and so on. Professor Laurence Nixon, put it perfectly when he said: “Every time a teacher helps a poorly performing student to do better, the teacher in effect, is reducing, however minimally, the R-scores of the rest of the class.” Students will choose classes where the performance level is low in order to ensure they receive a good R-score, and Nixon points out the obvious effect of this, “[the students] won't be challenged by their fellow students which is of course counter-productive of a good education; and correspondingly students in high performing classes will be at a disadvantage compared to students in low-performing classes when it comes to applying to university programs.”

I am not advocating for the abolishment of the R-score, but it ought to undergo major reforms so that it is comprehensible and fair to those who face its immediate consequences: us, the students. It seems completely irrational to subject students to a grade in which the formula cannot be calculated in their respective CEGEPS: reinforcing the notion that we are not in control of our futures. Even ensuring that CEGEP faculty become knowledgeable with the nuances of the formula does not seem to be a priority at Dawson, I find this troubling for two reasons: first, this could be a consequence of our administrators actively choosing to ignore the fact that students have expressed desires to be taught the R-score; or alternatively, that our administrators think attempting to educate our faculty on the complexities of the formula is a waste of time. If professors are unable to explain it, perhaps it is too convoluted to be our ranking formula. Both are unsettling in their own respects. Striving for educational reform does not precisely coincide with a one specific political ideology. But I would argue that pursuing change and fighting an injustice in the education sector would most likely fall under democratic socialism. Ensuring social and economic rights is a fundamental right for democratic socialists; pushing for social justice democratically would coincide with its principle right (Fikkert).

The political institution I engaged with was Dawson College. Dawson College is a part of the “Fédération des cégeps” along with 48 other existing CEGEPS in the province (Fédération des cégeps). This “federation” technically falls under the jurisdiction of the Quebec Ministry of Education, but they follow their own stream of bureaucracy. The Federations “General Assembly” instate all their objectives and regulations: this group is composed of academic Deans and presidents of school boards from all 48 CEGEPS (Fédération des cégeps). But before anything is presented to the General Assembly, it must first pass the President Director General, then the 11 members of the Directing Committee, and then two counsellors to the General Directors, until it finally reaches the General Assembly of the Federation (Fédération des cégeps). If need be, propositions would then be presented to the Ministry of Education. But before any of those levels of bureaucracy are breached, students must first pass through the Dawson Administration, which luckily is not as stratified as its federal counterpart.

At Dawson, we have six Deans – The Dean of Academic Systems, the Dean of Creative and Applied Arts, The Dean of Instructional Development, The Dean of Science, The Dean of Social Science and Business Technologies and the Academic Dean (Dawson College Website). Each Dean has a group of assistants and a secretary to help them manage. For this project, I contacted the Dean of Academic Systems and the Dean of Social Science. I was hoping that if two out of the six Deans were aware of this issue, it would be most likely brought up to the other faculty members and infiltrate the stream of consciousness within the school. If the Deans of the College were aware of the frustrations held by the student body, maybe they would be willing to address the issue. I wrote to the Dean of Social Science because their main duty is to “provide support to programs in Social Science” including Liberal Arts, the program I am currently enrolled in (Dawson College Website). I wrote to the Dean of Academic Systems because their list of duties includes “academic standing […] and academic advising” (Dawson College Website).

My plan of execution is slightly less convoluted than my topic: I began by speaking to my Liberal Arts Professors to gage how thorough their knowledge on the R-score was. I approached them first so I could anticipate what to expect when dealing with administrators and their assistants. Afterwards, I created an online survey allowing Dawson students to answer a series of questions and then anonymously give their opinions on the subject. I find surveys an effective way of provoking thought and reflection amongst participants, as well as providing an insight on the opinions of a large group that would have not otherwise been accessible. The questions were straightforward: do you understand the R-score? Would you be able to explain it to a class? Do you think it’s an effective way of ranking students? Would you like to see it removed, kept or replaced with something else? Do you have any thoughts/opinions on the topic?

The responses to my survey took me by surprise – I did not realize the degree in which other Dawson students were passionate about this issue. I received 165 participants and 52 written responses. By surveying professors and students at Dawson, I was able to reach a vague statistical conclusion on a large number of opinions in regards to the R-score system.

The second phase of my political action plan was to bring these results to the attention of Dawson administrators. Writing a letter seemed to be the appropriate course of action because, in my opinion, a Dawson enquiry submitted to the Dawson Deans would merit more of a response than if I wrote to one of the 5 layers of bureaucratic directors at the Fédération des cégeps or the Quebec Ministry of Education. I was unable to directly hand them my letter, in both cases they were “not in the office,” so I faithfully handed my work to their secretaries. The final phase of my action was to wait, but to no avail: I did not receive a response from either Academic Dean.

Clearly there was no administrative progress made during the completion of my project, and I was unsuccessful in forging a dialogue between the student body and their Academic Deans, as I had hoped to achieve. I did gain insight into the bureaucratic process within Dawson, but in the future, when I draft a letter I will be insistent that I hand the letter directly to the person addressed to ensure that it is received.

However, it did spark a conversation amongst my peers, which I thought was a success. The sentiments of frustration, anger, and confusion expressed to me by my fellow Dawson students on the R-score motivated me tremendously, and forced me to study this topic more thoroughly than I would have otherwise. Students were relieved that someone was attempting to take on the disgruntling system, since many of them have been pleading for explanations for a while now. The reason I received two opposing responses from the Dawson administration and the student body is that it evidently affects one group more than the other. As I had mentioned in my introduction, those in higher positions of power do not prioritize the same issues as the student body. The Administrative Deans receive their objectives and rules from the Fédération des cégeps and the Ministry of Education, which means they might not have the jurisdiction to take on this issue.

Progress in the education system, namely our CEGEP system, would take years. It took nearly 300 years for the Quebec government to shift control of the education system away from the clergy. Taking on the mountain of bureaucracy intertwined with amending the way in which Quebec students are graded would be a full-time job, and this is problematic. This hinders capacity for change within our education system because the process to ignite progress is long, tedious and bureaucratic. An issue such as the R-score will not affect me once I graduate, and so because of this, the devotion to this issue is unfortunately temporary and circumstantial to many. Due to the scarcity of information on the R-score and CEGEP system, I did not learn much on the issue itself; however, I did gain insight on the apathy of my College’s Administration and the passion of my peers. If I were to pursue this issue further, I would see it that all Academic Deans of Dawson receive a letter as well as the Directors of the Fédération des cégeps. Overall, I learned how disheartening it is to be ignored by an institution whose role is to support students and enable their success.

 

 

Works Cited

CBC Learning. "The Quiet Revolution." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.

Dawson College. "Leadership." Deans – Leadership. Dawson College Website, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.

Durocher, René. "Quiet Revolution." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada, 30 July 2013. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.

Fédération Des Cégeps. "Structure." Fédération Des Cégeps. Fédération Des Cégeps, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.

Fikkert, Antonia. “Ideologies: Values, Assumptions, and Consequences.” Fall 2016.

Moussako, Abraham. "Transitioning from CEGEP | The McGill Tribune." The McGill

Tribune. Société De Publication De La Tribune, 01 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.

Quebec. Conférence Des Recteurs Et Des Principaux Des Universités Du Québec. The R Score: A Survey of Its Purpose and Use. CREPUQ. Québec: Comité De Gestion Des

Bulletins D’études Collégiales, 2013. Bureau De Service Régional D'admission Du Montréal Métropolitain. "What Are Cégeps?" What Are Cégeps? | SRAM. Service Régional D'admission Du Montréal Métropolitain, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.

 

Bibliography

Beausoleil, Jacques, and Denis Massé. Les Services Aux Étudiants Dans La Structure Administrative Des CEGEP. n.p.: Montréal : Federation des Colleges Classiques, 1967., 1967.

CBC Learning. "The Quiet Revolution." CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.

Dawson College. "Leadership." Deans – Leadership. Dawson College Website, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.

Durocher, René. "Quiet Revolution." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada, 30 July 2013. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.

Fédération Des Cégeps. "Structure." Fédération Des Cégeps. Fédération Des Cégeps, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.

Fikkert, Antonia. “Ideologies: Values, Assumptions, and Consequences.” Fall 2016.

Moussako, Abraham. "Transitioning from CEGEP | The McGill Tribune." The McGill Tribune. Société De Publication De La Tribune, 01 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.

Mintz, Eric, et al. Politics, Power, And The Common Good : An Introduction To Political Science. Fourth Canadian Edition. n.p.: Boston, Mass. : Pearson Learning Solutions, c2015., 2015.

Phillips, Andy. "OH Research: How To Conduct Surveys." Occupational Health 67.1 (2015): 27-30. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

Quebec. Conférence Des Recteurs Et Des Principaux Des Universités Du Québec. The R Score: A Survey of Its Purpose and Use. CREPUQ.

Québec: Comité De Gestion Des Bulletins D’études Collégiales, 2013. Bureau De Service Régional D'admission Du Montréal Métropolitain. "What Are Cégeps?" What Are Cégeps? | SRAM. Service Régional D'admission Du Montréal Métropolitain, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.

About the author

Sam Dagres loves stirring trouble and calling it how she sees it, two dispositions that have made being The Plant's news editor very interesting. She graduated from the Dawson Liberal Arts program and will be attending McGill in the Fall where she will be completing a double major in political science and philosophy.

About the illustrator

Thomas Lugaric is a first-year Illustration student at Dawson who aspires to become a comic book artist.

Comments

No comments posted yet.

You have to be registered and logged in in order to post comments!