There is a debate in education around the relationship between grading and learning. Many of our teachers and schools have shifted the ways that they give students feedback – focussing more on constructive comments for improvement and less on grades. Of course, this has been met with some concern. For so long, schools have been using grades as something of a sorting system, and while also a learning system, the sorting often took priority as students marks were used to make comparisons. And of course, with almost all of our students looking towards post-secondary education in our community, grades do matter.
Our teachers and schools are committed to getting better at how we communicate student learning. Like many BC school districts, we have been piloting new reporting documents this year, and next year both Kindergarten and Grade 4 will be running district-wide reporting pilots. The goal of this work is to take the best information we have about student learning, and have that reflected in what we share out to parents and students. In my last post, I referenced FreshGrade, that presents a new way of communicating student learning. It is one of the tools our teachers are beginning to use to break down traditional way of reporting – moving reporting away from being an event but rather an ongoing dialogue.
I was recently reminded of the challenge of assessment, grading and reporting with a story told to me by a colleague in the district about her daughter, currently in Grade 6, who attends a school in another district. Her story is a common one that I hear about assessment practices, and one worth sharing.
In this particular story, the class was asked to develop some speaking notes on a topic and deliver a 3-5 minute spoken presentation. Her daughter practiced for several days behind closed doors, working hard to ensure that she could deliver the presentation in the allotted time, as points would be deducted for presentations that were either too long or too short. She felt prepared and really enjoyed the research and work involved in putting it together. She even shared some of her ideas with classmates in the days prior to the delivery, and they talked about their shared concerns and strategies to overcome the usual pitfalls of public speaking. It was a great project, with one very big downside.
When she had delivered the presentation, her mother asked how it had gone. “Well, I don’t have my grade yet, but people asked questions and two of my friends said that I did really well.” She was pleased about the positive feedback and talked about her own impressions of the project.
The following day, her daughter returned home, locked herself in her room, and examined the grade and evaluation sheet in private. It was not what she had hoped to see, and she was not eager to share it with the family.
This story illustrates our challenge. We want assessment to help improve learning, but for this student, as soon as the grade was given, the learning stopped. Instead of being a stop on a learning journey – this became a story about ranking and sorting.
While parents love to hear that “Sophia is a pleasure to teach,” timely and constructive comments that help parents understand how they can support at home the work in the classroom is far more useful.
There are no easy answers, but this is an important conversation we are having in our schools and across the province as we look for better ways to assess student learning.
A previous version of this post was originally shared in my Superintendent’s Message that was published earlier this month for the West Vancouver School District e-newsletter, the Learning Curve.