Picture: Cai Rahman

As of the 19th of February, the administration set forth a new Missed/Skipped Assignments Policy (M-SAP) policy dictating that any student missing an assignment or test without providing credible (official) evidence of medical cause will automatically receive a failing grade of no better than 59% upon completing that makeup assignment. Although the administration has not publicly announced the reasons why this policy was made, controversy regarding it has spread amongst high schoolers. On the one hand, some feel that keeping this policy ensures punishment for slackers and motivates students to work efficiently to meet due dates and deliver quality work on time. On the other hand, the policy can be seen as a very unforgiving policy that may too strongly punish students who make mistakes every now and then. The M-SAP has both benefits and flaws, but does one outweigh the other? The Diplomat has taken the liberty to provide arguments from both sides from the perspective of many high school students.


Pro Argument

As ruthless and unforgiving as the nature of this policy may seem, the M-SAP can actually benefit students by promoting better values, consequently improving the high school as a whole. Students who complete their school work by due dates or who coordinate other make up opportunities will not be affected. Only students who fail to manage their academic responsibilities adequately need to be affected.

One reason the policy was put in place was to emphasize ethical conduct in the school. Skipping test days is a kind of cheating. The school needs to properly combat the recent upward trend of absenteeism and firmly reinforce the idea that skipping days is wrong. Absent students cause problems by deliberately trying to give themselves an unfair advantage over responsible students. Such behaviour, if not properly discouraged, encourages even more students to emulate the wrong action, worsening the school’s moral character. The M-SAP is a necessary step to take in order to firmly and quickly deal with this serious situation.

A common and understandable argument against the M-SAP is that the policy is too unforgiving, as it means that any student unexcused from assignments will receive a failing grade and even one failed test can severely lower a student’s grade; nonetheless, students need to realize the offence is cheating, and a failing grade for having cheated is ultimately a reasonable punishment.

The M-SAP will also help the teachers rebuild their trust in the students. Recent trends of successive absences to avoid test dates have indiscriminately harmed, if not broken, the trust between teachers and students. M-SAP can also contribute positively to the school environment by combating the major issue of procrastination. Obviously, some people work better under time pressure; however, reliance on procrastination is a bad habit. Too many students rely excessively on last minute adrenalin to carry them through their studying, often to unacceptably late times in the morning. Procrastinating has a negative correlation to the performance of students. Not only is this habit a major cause of sleep deprivation, it is also causes students to skip school to complete assignments after the due date. Prior to the establishment of M-SAP, students gave false reasons for missing class when they were actually missing class to finish important work they did not complete the night before. The M-SAP forces them to confront this unethical and counterproductive behavior and to understand the problems with procrastination.

Since the policy states that students need a doctor’s note to be granted an excused absence, some students may argue that the policy is unfair to students who have, what they consider other legitimate reasons to miss classes. However, the policy is designed to allow students with other legitimate reasons to avoid the consequences of the policy: these students simply need to provide teachers with proper evidence of a justifiable situation prior to the actual day to be excused. Ultimately, the students who can honestly negotiate their situation with their teachers may receive extra time.

In conclusion, the M-SAP is a measure taken to justly correct students who are cheating and engaging in unethical behaviour. Though getting used to this policy may take time, it will surely promote better conduct within the SMIS High School..


Con Argument

The M-SAP implemented by the school administration is a rash response to student absences which oversimplifies the issue. It incorrectly sorts absences coinciding with class assessments into a binary consisting of either legitimate doctor visits or illegitimate assignment avoidance. This ill-considered response to recent trends in absenteeism both indicates and fosters distrust among members of the school community.

The first issue with this new policy is the harshness of the grade penalty. Missing a test automatically precludes you from a passing grade. Not only is this arbitrarily inconsiderate of the circumstances of a student’s absence, it can actually discourage studying. A student who has missed a test will see very little reward in studying for a retest, as they fail either way. M-SAP prioritizes punishment over education, discouraging students from actually learning material.

Additionally, M-SAP does little to combat students avoiding homework assessments through absences. Most homework assessments are now turned in electronically, and students will not be able to avoid those deadlines by missing school anyway.

Proponents of M-SAP may claim it is better for teachers who will not have to make tests into multiple versions for retakes and fairer to students who actually show up on test day. While it is likely true that students who would have previously avoided tests may now show up as a result of this new rule, assuming that this automatically solves these two problems is misguided. In terms of teachers having to make replacement tests for absentee students, it is important to consider that many classes with multiple periods already see differing tests on different periods of days, and that there will still be excused absences. Even with M-SAP, teachers’ will still be remaking tests for students.

Some students complain that absent students get the advantage of an extra day of studying for assessments and that this extra time can affect the average scores of classes and the curve thus hurting the grades of “honest” students who take the test on time. Again, the issue with this argument is that the policy does not really solve this problem. It assumes the policy will solve all discrepancies in study time among students. Study time never has and never will be perfectly equitable among students since class distribution, club activities, and commute times all contribute to differences in “study” time among students. Additionally, double blocks, extra curricular activities, and excused absences also cause differences in study time among students.

Above all, the largest issue with M-SAP is the inflexibility of the policy. The M-SAP statement provided in the student handbook states, “Should a student miss any scheduled assessment…  without providing a medical certificate from a physician, the make-up assessment will be worth a maximum of 59%.” This incorrectly categorizes school absences as a binary, that all absences that are not doctor approved are assessment avoidances. It fails to account for absences where a student is not in a position to receive a medical certificate from a physician, but is also not avoiding a test. Although the school’s insistence on a third party to corroborate absences reflects the fact that parents sometimes cover up for students and is indicative of the diminishing trust between the school and families.

St. Mary’s International School’s school philosophy aims to form “free and responsible young men”, measuring personal development through “empathy and mutual trust”. Lacking trust from the administration, it is hard to see how families and students are being enabled to take personal responsibility for roles in the educational process.

Instead of forcing this rule, the administration should look to develop a solution that cultivates mutual trust and responsibility within the school community. For example, communicating with families about concerns, and equipping them with relevant information to make better decisions about whether their son is fit to come to school, but leaving the final decision with them.