A previous post some time ago “Boosting Grades at Summer School” looked at the implications of doing summer school, and found that there was a small difference in the average grade of those who did summer school versus those who didn’t. While this is one way of looking at it, there is another way which is possibly better for admission purposes, so that’s what we will do here, with some interesting results.
A significant minority of our Ontario applicants do at least one course in summer school (about 20 to 25%), and it seems to be more common with British Columbian applicants too, but relatively rare with applicants from other provinces and countries. We ask people to describe why they do courses outside of regular day school, and frequently the reasons include “I wanted more spares in Grade 12 so I can focus on getting better grades in fewer courses”, or “I wanted to focus on this course alone because it’s the hardest for me”. These are reasonable from an admissions competition point of view, but from my side they don’t inspire much confidence. In an engineering program, there are no spares and no opportunities to focus on one course, so it’s an educational strategy that is going to fail as soon as they start university.
The concern from some applicants and parents is that doing summer school provides a higher mark for an individual than they would have achieved in a regular program, and that provides an unfair advantage especially for admission to highly competitive programs where a few marks can make the difference. So to consider this another way, I took some previous years’ data for ENG4U (Ontario grade 12 English, because that is course most students do at summer school). Instead of looking at the grades, I looked at the difference between ENG3U and ENG4U (i.e. how much the mark changes from Grade 11 to 12 level courses). I will refer to this difference as ΔENG (delta ENG; a typical shorthand for differences). This provided some interesting results.
For over 3,000 students who did ENG4U in regular day school, I found that the average ΔENG was 2.5. This means that on average, a student’s grade 12 English mark is about 2.5 points higher than the grade 11 mark. I was somewhat pleasantly surprised that the marks are fairly consistent, on average. (Of course there is a lot of individual variability…some students’ grades go up more, and some go down too.)
Now comparing with over 1,000 students who did ENG4U in summer school. For them we found that the average ΔENG was 6.2. So this suggests that on average they get a bigger boost than I would have expected from regular day school. The first thing we need to do is test whether this difference is statistically significant, or just some random noise. The statistical test shows that the probability of this difference being due to random noise in the data is about 3.4E-35 (i.e. 0.0000000000000000000000000000000034). That’s a vanishingly small probability, so it’s safe to say there is a significant difference in the two groups of students.
So, it seems reasonable to conclude that using summer school is a way to boost grades over what they might have normally achieved (on average) and gain some advantage for admission purposes. So what do we do about it?
We have nothing against summer school, although we would strongly prefer that students get work or volunteer experience to boost their employability in our co-op program. But we also want to try to keep a level “playing field” for all applicants. Therefore, we will start using adjustments to the admission score (used for ranking applicants) that will deflate any unusual advantage that summer school appears to provide.
In practice, this will mean that if a required course was done at summer school, we will look at the difference between the Grade 11 and Grade 12 results. If they are reasonably consistent (say within 10), then no adjustment is likely. If they are dramatically different we will apply an adjustment that removes much of the advantage. So for example, with a Grade 11 English grade of 65%, and a Grade 12 summer school mark of 95%, we might adjust the score so that the Grade 12 mark only acts like a 75% when calculating the rankings. Of course, if the marks went down in summer school or stayed about the same we won’t apply any adjustments. So there is no automatic “penalty” for summer school courses, just an adjustment if it seems to result in a very unusual boost and unfair advantage. From my estimates, probably less than 20% of applicants with summer school required courses will see any significant effect.