Gradeless reporting pilot project hits the right mark 

More Whistler classes sign on to ditch letter grades in favour of detailed feedback

click to enlarge GOOD GRADES: About 40 classes throughout the Sea to Sky school district are participating in a pilot project that leaves out traditional letter grades in favour of more specific feedback.
  • GOOD GRADES: About 40 classes throughout the Sea to Sky school district are participating in a pilot project that leaves out traditional letter grades in favour of more specific feedback.

Two years after a group of Sea-to-Sky teachers first began ditching graded report cards in favour of more detailed, specific feedback, the pilot project is still going strong—and showing its benefits.

At a recent meeting, participating teachers attested that "students are responding well" to the new reporting processes, said school district 48 (SD48) assistant superintendent Paul Lorette.

"I think generally what (teachers are) reporting is that there's more of a focus on learning rather than on worrying about what grade (students) received or if their grade is higher or lower than their friends'," he said.

Instead of receiving traditional a letter grade, students participating in the program receive reports the school district refers to as "communicating student learning" using "descriptive feedback," explained Lorette.

In that in-depth feedback, teachers identify an area of strength that each student is displaying, as well as an area where students may be able to improve.

"The draft provincial reporting policy requires that there is a (four-point) performance scale that is used (for each area of curriculum)," Lorette added. The performance scale identifies how well students are grasping the concepts and competencies expected for each subject, from "emerging" to "developing" to "proficient" to "extending". These descriptors are provided to parents at several points throughout the school year.

There are also several opportunities for face-to-face discussions between students, parents and teachers, including two student-led conferences per year.

When the pilot project was first implemented, several parents voiced concerns about the elimination of traditional letter grades. In response, the pilot allows parents who want to see their child's grade to simply request a letter grade from their teacher.

"For those families, we feel that they're taken care of and they get what they need," said Lorette. "What we've found though, is the number of parents who actually request letter grades is much lower than the number who say they would prefer them, so that's interesting." Last year, approximately 12 per cent of parents requested letter grades at the end of the year, he added.

The pilot was originally implemented in Whistler classrooms in February 2017. At the time, twenty-five teachers in the district volunteered for the pilot, with about 825 students in Grades 4 through 9 taking part.

Now, the pilot encompasses approximately 40 classrooms across the district, ranging from Kindergarten through Grade 9. All students in Grades 10 to 12 continue to receive the letter grades and percentages required to apply to post-secondary institutions.

"When we've done our survey in the past couple years, we've had some open-ended questions ... there have been a number of parents who've said, 'When this first came out I was skeptical, I didn't understand it, but now that I see it in action I appreciate the difference it's made. My child is much less anxious and is bringing back really good information about their learning.' We have received that feedback from a number of families," Lorette said.

Christine Zucht is one of those parents who feels the pilot project's reporting system has been beneficial for her family.

"Our child's current teacher and her teacher last year used the new reporting system thoughtfully," she wrote in an email. "We feel the student goal setting, the student 'proofs'/ examples and the teacher feedback used in this system was extensive and informative.

"Our child has enjoyed being able to show and explain her numerous pieces of work that have been posted on-line or sent home as proofs of her learning," Zucht continued. "The student-led conferences provide an opportunity for her to lead the discussion of sharing and celebrating examples of her learning in the classroom and to identify future goals for improvement, along with input from her teacher."

SD48 is one of "13 or 14 other districts" that have signed on to the provincial pilot project this year, Lorette explained.

"The idea is that the province right now has a draft reporting policy, and these pilot districts are providing feedback to the ministry, and then the ministry will then use that feedback to either change their policy or make some changes depending on the feedback that they receive," he said.

For more information on the pilot project, go to https://sd48seatosky.org/pilot-csl/ or to https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/sites/curriculum.gov.bc.ca/files/pdf/updates/educator_update_student_progress_k-9.pdf to view the ministry of education's guidelines for reporting student progress.

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