Much has been written this last week surrounding the announcement that the Calgary Board of Education will be moving towards a new way of reporting student achievement. As you can imagine this announcement has been met with much protest. Some of the objections are fair to be sure, but many seem to be misguided and rooted in the sense that this move from letter and percentage grades to descriptors is somehow damaging our youth as they prepare to move into the “real world” One only has to skim the comments section of any story dealing with education to gain a sense of this mindset. While I find this view discouraging, I also understand that this perception exists, because we as educators and leaders don’t do the best job of communicating these shifts.
The Real World
It has been some time since I have worked in the “real world” but I do have family and friends who still live in this idealized environment. In speaking with them, I learned that performance reviews are never communicated through a grade. In fact many times, these evaluations are carried out as a conversation, sometimes employers go over their job description or their expected outcomes. From there it is often communicated to the employee where their strengths are and areas for potential improvement are identified. It is based on this evaluation that an employees bonus or promotion is determined. What I can’t understand is why these backwards thinking companies fail to see the value in assigning a number or a grade to their employees. The fact of the matter is that the “real world” resembles nothing like the schools we have today. Today, our schools are educating students in a system that was designed for a different time, for a different purpose and a different economy.
What this Shift Is and What it Isn’t
Besides the complaint that this shift is not preparing our students for the “real world” the other common comment is that this system is forgiving failure or promoting mediocrity. Many individuals express the opinion that in order to measure our educational system we must be able to clearly differentiate between those that are successful and those that are not. The question we need to ask ourselves as a society is what purpose do we want our educational system to serve? Do we want a system that sorts out the winners and losers or do we want a system that encourages personal growth and improvement? This new system of assessment and reporting is founded in the belief of developing a growth mindset. Instead of students being given a 76% and a few lines of comments, they are now presented with indicators that relate to the outcomes in the Alberta Programs of Study and indicate more directly where students are experiencing success and require support. In short, this shift is not about celebrating mediocrity.Instead, this reporting system is about communicating to students that they are not failures, that with the right support they too can experience success. If schools are to be places of learning and not places of sorting, then we need to stop focusing so much on where students fall on the bell curve.
For many students, school is simply a thing that they have to do in order to do what they really want to do. Students are presented with so much content that they have little time to explore their own areas of passion. This is something that has been recognized even at the government level and has led to the implementation of Inspiring Education by the Government of Alberta. Inspiring Education is a move towards a less prescriptive curriculum and a system that supports a variety of learning. There is a wonderful report put out that discusses the correlation of intellectual engagement, marks-based assessment and it’s impact on student learning. Are our schools places where students come to “do school?” or are they places where they are intellectually engaged and furthering their own understanding?
I clearly discuss a lot of thoughts here and while I would like to think that I have made a strong case for such a shift, I know much is missing and that more explanation may be required. As teachers I think it is our job to communicate with parents, students and the community why this shift is beneficial and how this shift will best prepare our students for the world they are about to enter. A world that is rapidly changing and will not resemble the world that we entered into. If we as educators can clearly articulate where students are succeeding and where there is room for improvement, I feel like students will begin to develop and embrace the growth mindset that encourages lifelong learning.
This topic is so much deeper than simply a blog post and I wonder what others out there think. Do we as teachers communicate assessment effectively? How can we include parents more meaningfully in the assessment process? What is the ultimate purpose of school?