Letters to the Editor for the week of February 9th 

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Grade-free report cards need evaluation first

This letter is a response to the articles "Are letter grades failing our kids?" and "SD48 to run a pilot project on grade-less report cards." (Pique, Feb. 2) I do not know the answer to the question above. The comments below simply draw from my experience as a student, parent and pediatrician.

Strategies other than grades should be used to motivate children to learn. Learning should be fun. Grades add an element of stress to learning. While grades may make some children do the "bare minimum," as suggested in the articles above, my own daughters and their friends seem to be very motivated by grades. They do not know what the "bare minimum" is, so they end up working really hard.

As well, some material will never be fun for some kids. Even the most dynamic professor would never have been able to instill in me a passion for organic chemistry. I tried to excel in it grade-wise only because it was a prerequisite to medicine.

Should grades be scrapped if they are making a subset of children work harder? Can grades not be additive to other motivational learning strategies? The real question is whether grades demotivate children. If this is true, there may be a case for scrapping them, but other strategies might also counter whatever demotivational effects they may have.

Children (and their parents) need to accurately understand how they are performing. Over my 17 years as a pediatrician, academic evaluation has become more vague and ambiguous. The shift from "not meeting, approaching, meeting and exceeding expectations" to "emerging, developing, and applying" exemplifies this.

Children are referred to me after struggling scholastically, often by the middle of elementary school. Their schools often push for these referrals. Frequently, the parents have little notion that their child is struggling until the referral is suggested. The reasons for this become clear in reviewing their child's previous report cards.

Negative teacher comments are almost always couched around a nest of positivity. Some teachers have told me that they have been asked to make their comments more positive prior to issuing report cards for concerns of upsetting parents. When reviewing report cards, I am forced to "read between the lines," a skill that should not be necessary for parents and students.

Whatever new system is adopted, teachers must be able to give accurate feedback without worrying about upsetting students, parents and educational administration. A system that promotes children doing the bare minimum is a problem, but one that leads to children doing the bare minimum and not even realizing that they are doing the bare minimum is an even bigger problem.

In the current grading system, mark inflation seems to be an issue. At my daughter's high school award ceremony last year, I estimated that between 30 to 40 per cent of students made the honour roll. With those numbers, not making the honour roll is unnecessarily upsetting for many students.

Grade requirements for university entrance have increased, possibly causing this mark inflation. The grading system that has emerged overinflates the self-esteem of the upper half of the class and deflates the self-esteem of the bottom half.

Given these facts, I can understand why some teachers have pushed for a grade-free system and why some parents have been quite content with it as well. That said, if mark inflation and students' self esteem is the primary concern, the educational system could be focusing on correcting mark inflation, university entrance criteria and student self-esteem rather than scrapping grades altogether.

At some point students need to understand where they sit academically with respect to their peers. Perhaps this is not necessary in elementary school, but students should have a good sense of this by the end of high school.

We live in a competitive world. A realistic understanding of our own strength and weaknesses allows us to make appropriate life choices. Imagine training as a competitive ski racer without being told your time or ranking. Rather, the focus is on the pleasure of obtaining good technique. I doubt this strategy would promote an Olympic-calibre skier.

At some point we need to know how we are doing comparatively to improve or modify our learning strategies and life goals.

When children are struggling academically, they undergo psychoeducational testing. Their cognitive abilities and academic achievements are graded as a standard deviation or percentile of a population norm. The school psychologist can then make accurate suggestions on optimizing a child's learning, given that child's particular strengths and weaknesses.

Whatever system of evaluation is adopted, children should not just be given feedback on their own personal progress, despite the fact that this may be the most palatable way to present the information. They need to know how they are doing in comparison to everyone else.

The elimination of provincial exams already limits this feedback. Eliminating letter grades could also potentially limit this feedback.

I have not reviewed all of the evidence against letter grades. I am open to change and improvement.

However, I am concerned about uncontrolled trials or pilot projects, particularly if the chief outcome is parent and teacher satisfaction.

Definitive evidence of superiority should come from randomized trials with objective markers of success as the primary outcome.

For example, schools serving similar socioeconomic populations could be randomized to grades or no grades. Useful comparative data for markers of success can then be obtained. While studies like this pose challenges and limitations, they are definitely better than uncontrolled ones.

If SD48 is interested in evaluating a grade-free system, they should consider randomizing their schools in this fashion. If these quality studies already exist and favour a grade-free system, SD48 should simply implement the new system.

An SD48 pilot project of a different nature feels like a waste of time and effort.

Denton Hirsh

Broken promise on electoral reform

I am writing to express my outrage at the government's recent decision to scrap electoral reform prior to the 2019 federal election, a promise that was made repeatedly and emphatically by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the 2015 election campaign.

I use the word "outraged" because millions of Canadians like myself voted for change in the last election with the promise of electoral reform front of mind.

In fact, two thirds of Canadians voted for parties promising electoral reform. Grassroots campaigns organized to promote strategic voting in order to achieve a change of government. But Canadians made it clear that they do not want to resort to strategic voting in the future. They want a reformed system in which all votes count and are represented in Parliament.

At country-wide committee hearings on electoral reform, 88 per cent of expert and 87 per cent of public testimony favoured a proportional system. The fact that the Liberal government might not favour this system is not a valid reason to ignore this powerful message.

Ignoring such clearly expressed public opinion is already being viewed by millions of Canadians as a highly cynical approach to politics.

The goodwill that brought the Trudeau government into power will evaporate quickly. For Canadians across the political spectrum, it's not hard to see that a backlash against strategic voting in the next federal election could easily result in a loss of Liberal power and a swing toward conservatism after just one term of Liberal rule.

Following through on the public's clear desire for proportional representation will remove this type of political sea-sawing and allow for representation of all voters' interests in Parliament.

I urge the Liberal government to make good on their promise of electoral reform, and more-so, to enact legislation bringing in a system of proportional representation as clearly called for in the country-wide committee hearings.

There is still a small window of opportunity prior to the 2019 election to make this happen and to avoid a rapid loss of the goodwill that brought the Trudeau government to power in 2015.

Stephen Vogler

A jewel in our crown

I will start this letter by making a confession: I love libraries... I belong to six across Canada, including one in cyberspace. So I am biased about reading and the comfort of having a library card.

By far my favourite library is our very own: Whistler Public Library (WPL). Why? Because it is a jewel in our crown in this wonderful bubble we call home.

Our library is housed in a beautiful building... (and) what a warm, natural and inviting place it is. I have spent many an hour reading in front of the fireplace, tea in hand.

The library offers our community so much in terms of programming, education, warmth and community spirit.

The programming and staff are excellent. Personally, I have participated in the pop-up choir, Barbed Choir, (a bi-weekly, if you like or think you would like to sing, musical group); the book club, (books supplied, lots of discussion and enlightenment); and various movie or discussion nights. The kids' area looks great and the line-up of strollers for story times attests to its popularity. Ted Talks are streamed each year and are of particular interest to many.

In particular, I have enjoyed the professionalism and passionate excitement of both Nadine and Jeanette and their involvement in programming and patrons' services.

From a passionate reader, thank you to the WPL for all the good you are responsible for in this community.

Deborah Eaton-Kent

Have you figured it out yet?

Hopefully you have learned it by now.

After the two promised deficits of $10 billion that turned into 40 years of deficits as high as $30 billion; the carbon tax coupled with no less than five new, massive fossil-fuel projects; the non-combat mission against ISIS that turned into troops on the ground firing and being fired upon; the "never again" electoral reform plan; the open competition to replace the F-35 that turned into another sole-source contract, with an undisclosed price, coupled with the gag orders issued to thousands of civil servants by this new, transparent government; the Saudi arms deal they "never signed," the "revenue neutral" tax cut that actually cost us $1.8 billion and all the rest — it is that you have no business believing a word that comes out of this prime minister (Justin Trudeau's) mouth.

That the most sincere promises, however unequivocal and however often repeated, are to him and the people around him mere bait for the gullible, and that if you ever believe anything they tell you ever again, on any matter large or small, if you ever trust them to keep their word from this day forward, then you deserve everything you have coming to you.

Perri Domm

Thoughtful drivers save dog

I'm just writing to express my thankfulness to the cars driving on Highway 99 near Meadow Park on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 5.

Our golden doodle broke away from us on the Valley Trail, bounded up and over the giant snowbank and onto (and across) the highway.

When my husband finally raced over the waist-deep snow bank, he was able to get him off the highway unharmed because the cars had stopped.

Thank you for going at a speed that allowed you to stop for our dog. We are grateful beyond words especially during a busy weekend when we all know how easy it is to be rushing on the highway.

Gina Mollicone-Long

Big Freestyle Thanks

Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Club would like to send a huge thank you to all the parent volunteers and sponsors who helped put on the Timber Tour and Super Youth Challenge Freestyle events from Feb. 2 to 5.

Around 160 athletes aged eight to 20, from across the province, competed in moguls, slopestyle and big air over three days.

Big thanks to event suppliers Nesters; Slopeside Supply; Starbucks; Clif Bar; Momentum Camps; Whistler Brewing Company; and Lush. 

Heartfelt thanks to all our parent volunteers who worked tirelessly to make the event a success. There are too many to mention, but special thanks to Chief of Competition Sandra Haziza; Lee-Anne van Dongen; Mitch Forster; Valerie Linton; Julie and Jonathan Martin; and Louise Clarke. Thanks to on-hill vollies Mick Gannon; John Smart; Joe Maga; Dennis van Dongen; Rick Schwinghammer; Marek Ujejski; Dan Ternoway; MC Gravel; Xavier Wargniez; and their teams for getting the moguls course set up.

Also a big shout-out to Cate Webster; Seb Fremont; Colleen Ikona; and the crew from Whistler Blackcomb Events.

The "Appies and Awards" fundraiser at Buffalo Bills in support of the National Training Centre for Freestyle was a resounding success. Big thanks to all the people who donated silent auction items and to Catherine Power-Chartrand; Michel Chartrand; Laurie Low; Mitch Forster; Patti Lindsay-Ross; and Jennifer Raffler for making it all happen.

Lastly thanks to the high-flying and passionate Whistler freestyle skiers and all their coaches — the young WB Freestyle Devo's under Head Coach Tami Bradley and WBFSC teens under Head Coaches Jeff Fairbairn and Mike Richards — our skiers hauled in 32 Timber Tour and 31 Super Youth medals across all the different age groups! 

We now look forward to hosting the Junior National Park and Pipe Championships, April 5 to 9.

Julia Smart
Chief of Registration

Gala thanks

The third annual Myrtle Philip Community School Parent Advisory (PAC) Council Snowball Gala & Auction was a great success on Feb. 3!

Teachers, staff, parents and friends ate, danced, chatted, laughed and bid on many amazing silent auction items. Thank you to all who attended and bid so generously. The event raised over $11,250 for PAC-supported programs that directly benefit our school community and children.

Big shout out to Shauna Hardy Mishaw and Jenn Black for organizing the event. Thanks to Roxanne Cave of Celebrate for the amazing decor and Lee Lee of Whistler Balloon Works for the beautiful balloon display. Thanks to all our volunteers for setting up the silent auction, and special thanks to Emma Bayliffe and Lucy Harris for processing registration and sales at the event.

Thank you to Coast Mountain Photography for the ever-popular photo booth, and DJ Ira Pettle for the fab dancing tunes.

Thank you to Nicklaus North and Jenn Vagg for the stunning venue and amazing service. Thanks to Nesters Liquor Store, Nesters Market and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for supporting the event. And finally a huge thank you to all our silent auction donors for their generosity.

We are so lucky to have such a supportive community. Thanks to you all we are now halfway to realizing our financial goal of building an outdoor classroom.  

Kerri Stewart
on behalf of the MPCS PAC executive

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