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SD48 to run pilot project on grade-less report cards

Educators say studies back method for Grades 4 to 9
to the letter Some schools in the Sea to Sky district will undertake a pilot program in Grades 4 through 9 that will not use letters to grade students. shutterstock photo

Some kids might really like this, while some parents may have a difficult time adjusting: a letter-less grades pilot program is coming for some students in the Sea to Sky corridor.

Sea to Sky School District director of instruction Peter Jory said the project for Grades 4 through 9 was recently approved by the board of trustees, and the necessary steps for the introduction of the program will start in the coming weeks.

It's not known which schools or classes will be part of the project yet, but it will be announced in coming weeks with information packages sent home to parents.

The evidence suggests that letter grades do little to motivate students. Those who are labelled as a "C" for example, might not push themselves, preferring instead to accept the letter grade with little motivation to try to earn beyond it. Conversely, an "A" student may not be interested in further challenges once the top grade is earned.

Jory said the intention to not use traditional letter grades is something that has been gaining momentum — and backed by research — for about 70 years. Data and anecdotal observations show that students aren't necessarily motivated — or even seek to earn — letter grades. He added that some students learn better when the subject matter is presented differently and with an eye away from earning an A or B mark.

"The school system is very tied to culture and tradition," he said. "But this is an alignment of what our teachers are seeing and we'll share ideas to see how the students are doing."

Jory said educators were already seeing the results of such learning over the years, and several B.C. school districts in Surrey and on Vancouver Island are using this format. The Sea to Sky program will be tracked to ensure parents are satisfied and that students are appropriately evaluated.

For the school and teachers that undertake the program, Jory said the reporting order would include a letter grade on file with the school, which parents can request to see.

"What we've found is that parents see how it's going and eventually they lose interest in seeing the letter grades," Jory said.

The program does not affect Grades 10 through 12, by which time Jory said students would revert to letter grades to gain scholarships, bursaries and entry to colleges and universities.

Added district superintendent Lisa McCullough: "Our parents in the classrooms where the pilot will be run will be active participants in the feedback and the whole team approach to learning."

There will also be information sessions for parents so they can learn more about the project and the research behind it, said McCullough.

"...The bottom line — the big idea here — is that letter grading, and that type of assessment, interferes with student learning. (It) prevents students from going as deep or as far with their learning, and we would like to start removing that barrier for our students, getting the emphasis on learning and not an emphasis on less informative letter grades.

"So we want to emphasize that and making sure that they understand where they are at.

"We also believe we will be giving better information to families when we stop clinging to a letter grade and we start describing where the student is at, where they need to be, what strategies they have and let students format learning as well."