As about 624,000 secondary school students in Ontario return to classes on Sept. 6, several thousand are participating in a controversial program in which attendance, work ethics and such social skills as telling an absent classmate when a test is planned are emphasized along with traditional subjects. Designed for students who intend to seek a job after high school, Teach to Pass allows them to write the same test repeatedly until they succeed. Said Robert Keech, 50, the Windsor, Ont., high-school vice-principal who originated the program: “Many kids believe they can’t do the schoolwork. With Teach to Pass, the teacher makes a commitment to the student and says, T am going to teach you how to pass; I am not going to let you fail.’ ”
Keech developed the program between 1981 and 1983 to deal with high failure rates among high-school students. As such, Teach to Pass is one of many approaches attempting to deal with aspects of a broader problem—a high-school dropout rate generally estimated at about 30 per cent in Ontario.
Its detractors say that it lowers standards and puts too much emphasis on passing rather than learning. But school boards from North Bay, Ont., to Baltimore, Md., have booked Keech to deliver one-day seminars every Saturday for the past two years and on into 1989.
Dozens of school boards and groups of teachers have turned to him and fellow educators Peter Guthrie and Todd Romiens to learn techniques for keeping students in class. At the core of the program is a so-called 5-10-15 attendance policy, which lets parents and students know that absenteeism is being monitored until the student is asked to leave after 15 unexplained absences.
Some critics say that Teach to Pass is aiming too low. George Radwanski, a private consultant whose February, 1988, report for the Ontario education ministry called for a return to standardized, provincewide tests, an end to streaming, and more remedial help, even went so far as to call Teach to Pass a hoax.
But Keech said that giving marks for good work habits and social skills gives students a sense of accomplishment. The debate on how best to deal with dropouts will continue, but for some, simply keeping students in the classroom is itself a measure of success.
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