As I look towards some resolutions for 2015, I am looking at some themes that might emerge for future posts:
This week I had several great conversations with colleagues, including teachers, administrators, and our new superintendent, around assessment and grading practices. All of these conversations began with a question on how can we best support our students in their learning and how can we communicate their successes to both the student and their parent/guardian. I have been a strong proponent for the elimination of grades within the reporting cycles and a movement to a more holistic method of communicating student understanding (knowing what they know, and where they need to go).
However, in the past week I have been thinking more about the need to keep grades, at least for the short term. They serve a purpose (more on this later). Lately, for me, the conversation has turned to how do we communicate better through reporting? What is the difference between saying a student is at 70% (or a C+) and saying that the student is meeting expectations, being successful, but needs to improve in some areas to fully or exceed the expectations of the learning outcomes. The former is a known to parents, who have had at least 10-15 years in the education system as students receiving letter grades and percentages, and they believe that they can easily understand the difference between a C+ and a B. The latter is preferred by many teachers (in a system that is in more depth than I wrote here) to produce a more accurate reflection of where the student is on the standards or curricular outcomes for a particular course or subject and what they need to do to improve their over-all understanding. Much more work for teachers to produce this type of assessment report, so perhaps formalised timelines that are ‘one size fits all’ might not be appropriate for this method.
Is it possible to combine the concept of grades (which is more than ranking a student) and the greater depth of reporting student progress? What needs to be reported to parents so that they can take a more active role in the child’s education? Are report cards even necessary at the secondary level, especially in grade 11 and 12? With technology, why can’t a parent or student access their own ‘gradebook’, with support from the teacher to help navigate what it means? What is the difference between a 72% (a C+) and a 73% (a B) when it comes to the learning for students? And how does technology in the classroom and real world fit into this?
I have been struggling with these questions as the discussion, particularly in British Columbia, moves towards a different approach to school. I do not believe that grades should be used a ranking system (although they are, every day), however they can show some interesting and informative themes for the students and the teacher. A grade on its own, as a line on a report card, does not mean anything. Just as a the number of calories you eat in a day does not mean anything on its own (you may be an Olympic athlete and need extra calories, or you may be eating for two).
In British Columbia, we are moving towards a new Student Information System (called MyEdBC, which is an offshoot of the ASPEN system) that has promised to include a parent module where parents can access the ‘gradebook’ of the teacher. With all the discussions around changing the way we assess, using formative and summative tools, and even looking at removing letter grades, it seems a bit defeatist to include a module for a process of evaluation that is from the 19th century:
Let’s include technology into our schools that is cutting edge and use it to do that cutting edge education from the 1800’s. What a great plan to show we are embracing this new, digital age (20 years too late).
So, in the next few months, I am resolved to question what does great teaching and great leadership look like? If you have any great ideas for a post, or would like to ‘guest post’, please contact me at @brynmw or through this site.