This past school year in #BCEd was a strange one. There are a lot of past posts and sites to see why: teachers are in the process of negotiations with the government. As part of a legal process of those negotiations, teachers voted overwhelmingly to strike at the end of the school year. Therefore, for our students, the last day of classes was June 12th. There is doubt whether the school year will start in Sepetember,on time.
This post is not about the issues of the negotiations or the lockout by the government and the strike by the teachers. This is my question of whether a number accurately reflects both level of understanding and the amount of learning a student has undergone during the school year. The end of the school year meant that teachers could not complete their full evaluations of students in their classes. They could not accept late work, give extra time to those that needed it, nor could they help struggling students before or after school or at lunch. The government went to the Labour Relations Board (LRB) and had final marks for grades 10-12 essential for students (it is their graduation track requirements). This meant that teachers would hand in to administrators their final marks, based on what was essentially two of three terms. No comments, nor suggestions for improvements. Just a number. Each student in grade 10-12 courses received a number out of 100 (or percentage) to summarize their learning in each course.
This was mandated by the LRB (not an educational institution, but a workplace decision entity that rules on whether employees or employers are doing the right thing). Teachers had to submit a number for each student. I repeat this because the more I say it, the more ridiculous it sounds. After hours of reflection, deeper understanding, struggle, and triumph, a student is given a number to demonstrate their level of understanding of chemistry or English or Calculus. This number is extremely important, apparently, because it ranks the student with other students around the province to see which ones can go to which post-secondary institution. Not on actual understanding, or potential for learning, but based on a number that was mandated by a non-educational institution.
I know every teacher I know struggled with providing an accurate value for each student. Was a student at 55% or 60%? 85% or 86%? These numbers mean the difference between letter grades (also a strange notion, when you break it down).
Learning cannot be quantified in a value between 0 and 100 (or 0 and 1000, if you go that far. ie, 90.4%). Learning is a struggle to construct meaning from new knowledge, scaffolded on previous understandings. For example, if the learning outcome is that students must be able to factor a quadratic equation. I see this as an either/or proposition. You either can, or you can’t. Like riding a bicycle: you either can or you can’t. A person isn’t 59% able to ride a bike. For the math example, a student either understands how to factor a quadratic and what it means, or they can’t.
Does 60% in maths 10 mean that the student understands fully 60% of the learning outcomes? That means they don’t fully understand 40% of the outcomes. How will they survive in maths 11? 50%? Is this acceptable?
I believe it is time to revisit our grading practices to better reflect our understanding on learning. Remove the ranking, that should be done by those that want to rank students for admissions (universities, colleges, etc). Let’s move to a competency based reporting. One that gives better feedback to students and parents on how to improve, how to do better. A 95% says nothing about the learning.
Just my thoughts.