Sadly, Gradeless Marking Eliminates the Winning

Media Appearances, Education, Frontier Centre

Our public education system's drive to rewire human nature and eliminate competition in and between schools continues. Already, we have those everybody's-a-winner sports days. And there's been a huge push by the B.C. teachers' union to scrap standardized tests for Grade 4 and 7 kids.

Now there's a drive in the Lower Mainland to ban letter or percentage grades at elementary school.

Instead of getting easy-to-understand As, Bs, Cs, Ds and even Fs, students are evaluated on such vague measures as "exceeding the standard," "fully meeting the standard," "minimally meeting the standard" or "not yet meeting the standard (in progress)."

They don't win or lose, it seems, or even have to compete.

They just have to do enough to get by … and keep their parents off their backs.

Many parents, however, are as confused by these gradeless evaluations as they are by most educational jargon – or as they would be by a playoff game between the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks in which the Hawks exceeded the standard and the Bruins minimally met it.

Manitoba high-school teacher Michael Zwaagstra, author of What's Wrong with Our Schools: and How We Can Fix Them, says school superintendents immersed in "edu-bab-ble" love the new gradeless reports. However, parents don't.

"People who support this, they claim that it's all about providing better information to parents, and yet they choose descriptors that nobody has any idea what they mean," Zwaagstra said Thursday.

Zwaagstra has just written a Calgary Herald article about the grade-less report cards planned for kids from kindergarten to Grade 9 in various Calgary schools.

He says that, starting this fall, parents will discover whether their children are in the "exemplary," "evident," "emerging" or "support required" categories.

The new reports won't contain any "personalized comments" from teachers, which may lighten their workload, but won't benefit students or parents.

This spring, the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School Board voted unanimously to give elementary schoolteachers the option of ditching traditional reports for a "student-inclusive" model in which parents, teachers and students "conference together" under a set of agreed reporting principles.

David Vandergugten, the district's instruction director, said Thursday that 17 out of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows 20 elementary schools had adopted the new model.

"It's going really, really well," he said enthusiastically, adding most parents who were initially skeptical now appeared supportive.

Abbotsford school Supt. Kevin Godden is also promoting scrapping letter grades, saying they do everything from "arrest student effort" to "dismiss student growth."

Zwaagstra, meanwhile, says grade-less reporting advocates frequently claim they have research on their side, but there's no body of evidence showing the removal of letter grades or percentages leads to improved student achievement.

I'm trying hard to keep an open mind. But I think we reject tried and true learning methods at our peril. And I strongly suspect the gradeless evaluation will turn out to be like the carless city of Vision Vancouver's dreams – full of lofty promise, but short on real performance.