‘ BC. Leads the push..

The Miracle - - Front Page - By: DAVID NIXON Source: The Globe and Mail

When the school dis­trict in Maple Ridge, B.C., asked for vol­un­teers to pi­lot a new re­port-card sys­tem that aban­dons tra­di­tional let­ter grades, of­fi­cials ex­pected a few schools to sign up. In­stead, 17 of the dis­trict’s 21 schools stepped for­ward. “Sud­denly it was like, ‘Holy cow, how are we go­ing to man­age the ser­vice and make sure ev­ery­one gets through it?’” said David Van­der­gugten, di­rec­tor of in­struc­tion for School Dis­trict No. 42, which in­cludes 8,000 stu­dents in Maple Ridge and Pitts Mead­ows, east of Van­cou­ver. The pi­lot launched in 2013, largely driven by teacher con­cerns that let­ter grades weren’t ef­fec­tive. Stu­dents in Grades four through nine can choose to switch to a sys­tem that fo­cuses on de­tailed feed­back through­out the year, rather than sim­ply whether a stu­dent earned a B- or an A. Since the pro­gram’s launch, the num­ber of fam­i­lies who still ask for let­ter grades has fallen from al­most half to just 14. “A lot of par­ents said at first they thought they’d hate it, but they came around,” Mr. Van­der­gugten said. Bri­tish Columbia is at the fore­front of Cana­dian prov­inces in the push to re­move grades from re­port cards, with some dis­tricts hop­ing to one day im­ple­ment such a sys­tem in ev­ery school, from kinder­garten to Grade 12. But those ef­forts are con­strained by the need to en­sure stu­dents have stan­dard­ized marks for post­sec­ondary ap­pli­ca­tions, mean­ing that for the fore­see­able fu­ture, stu­dents in higher grades must re­main in the old sys­tem. Maple Ridge was an early pi­o­neer in the prov­ince in ex­per­i­ment­ing with changes to its re­port cards. Schools in Co­mox Val­ley and on Van­cou­ver Is­land also have their own pro­grams now. Sur­rey, the largest school dis­trict in Bri­tish Columbia, won the 2014 CMOLIK Foun­da­tion’s prize for en­hance­ment of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion for its grades-free ap­proach. The Sea to Sky school dis­trict be­gan a grades-free pi­lot in Jan­uary this year. Co­quit­lam, the third-largest dis­trict in the prov­ince, is con­sid­er­ing one of their own. The specifics vary by school dis­trict, but the com­mon thread is a shift away from tra­di­tional let­ter-grade as­sess­ments in favour of more de­tailed eval­u­a­tion and par­ent-teacher en­gage­ment through­out the year, of­ten en­abled by new on­line tools. The goal isn’t to soothe anx­i­ety or stroke self-es­teem; rather, pro­po­nents ar­gue that mov­ing from let­ter grades to anec­do­tal re­port­ing deep­ens en­gage­ment and the soft skills needed to solve prob­lems in the real world. Th­ese goals line up well with the new B.C. cur­ricu­lum cur­rently be­ing rolled out at schools across the prov­ince, which fo­cuses on flex­i­ble learn­ing. The new cur­ricu­lum has helped the mo­men­tum of in­di­vid­ual school ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. “B.C.’s out front in many ways,” said San­dra Mathi­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Bri­tish Columbia’s In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion. “[Change] doesn’t have to hap­pen at the provin­cial level though, it re­ally does re­quire work­ing it out at the lo­cal level … lo­cal con­text is re­ally im­por­tant. But I think what’s hap­pen­ing in B.C. is [dis­tricts] are be­ing given some space and an op­por­tu­nity to try new things out.” How­ever, there are lim­its to that space and op­por­tu­nity. Grades-free re­port cards must end by Grade 10 so stu­dents can re­ceive marks to use on their ap­pli­ca­tions for post­sec­ondary schools and schol­ar­ships. “Canada is late to the game in re­form­ing the tra­di­tional grades-fo­cused ap­proach to eval­u­a­tion,” Ms. Mathi­son said. “U.S. col­lege ad­mis­sions, for in­stance, in­volve far more than los­ing at just grades or col­lege ad­mis­sions scores.” The Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia is slightly ahead among Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties, hav­ing re­cently im­ple­mented broad-based ad­mis­sions. But grades are still a cru­cial part of that process. “It cer­tainly wouldn’t be a case where we go, ‘No grades, we can’t ad­mit you.’ We’d find a way to make it work,” said An­drew Arida, UBC’s as­so­ciate reg­is­trar of un­der­grad­u­ate ad­mis­sions. “But our ad­mis­sions have to be ev­i­dence based … and grades are very help­ful in that re­gard to as­sess merit and make de­ci­sions. With­out them, we’d need to find some other way to do it.” In Bri­tish Columbia, a com­ing gov­ern­ment re­port may ad­dress the is­sue. Last Fall, B.C.’s Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion launched Your ur Kid’s Progress,Progress a con­sul­ta­con­sulta tion that asks how par­ents pre­fer to learn about their chil­dren’s progress. To date, the site has re­ceived 23,500 vis­its with al­most 4,500 sur­veys com­pleted, ac­cord­ing to the min­istry. The con­sul­ta­tion closed on Feb. 4. Com­mu­nity meet­ings are also be­ing held around the prov­ince. The min­istry will pub­lish a re­port on the feed­back by the end of the school year, with the goal of “cre­at­ing a stu­dent re­port­ing process that gives par­ents a deeper un­der­stand­ing of their child’s progress.” Other prov­inces use a wide va­ri­ety of re­port­ing pro­ce­dures, mak­ing di­rect com­par­isons dif­fi­cult. Que­bec uses a num­bered sys­tem. On­tario has re­cently moved to­ward more de­tailed and on­go­ing par­ent-teacher com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but it’s in ad­di­tion to tra­di­tional grades. The school-dis­trict-level ex­per­i­men­ta­tion ap­pears to be uniquely thriv­ing in Bri­tish Columbia. In 2014, Cal­gary’s board of ed­u­ca­tion switched from let­ter grades to a num­bered sys­tem, but it has been con­tro­ver­sial and re­cently crit­i­cized by the Wil­drose Party as “too broad” to be mean­ing­ful. Min­istries of ed­u­ca­tion across Canada said they were not aware of any other sim­i­lar dis­trict-level ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in their ju­ris­dic­tions. “At this point, this is not on our radar as a na­tional is­sue and we do not have a sense of how many school boards may be do­ing this,” Floyd Marten, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian School Boards As­so­ci­a­tion, said in an e-mail. “Th­ese are of­ten based on the pri­or­i­ties of each min­istry along with lo­cal school boards … they reflect the direc­tion and cir­cum­stances in each prov­ince.” Bri­tish Columbia may lead the way in Canada with grade grade-freefree ex­per­i­ments ex­per­i­ments, but the hand­ful of school dis­tricts do­ing so are still a mi­nor­ity among the prov­ince’s 60 dis­tricts. “De­spite the progress [in B.C.], I don’t think it’s go­ing to hap­pen very quickly that we’re go­ing to see no grades at all at the sec­ondary level,” said Ms. Mathi­son, of B.C.’s In­sti­tute for Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion. How non-tra­di­tional re­port cards work in the Maple Ridge school dis­trict For five years, Maple Ridge has opted out of tra­di­tional re­port cards. In­stead, stu­dents build port­fo­lios of their work through­out the year, al­low­ing par­ents to see a sam­ple of their chil­dren’s work in sev­eral ar­eas over time. Maple Ridge teach­ers are re­quired to com­mu­ni­cate with the par­ents about stu­dent progress five times through­out the school year: The first time is a con­fer­ence in­volv­ing the stu­dent, their teacher and their par­ents at the end of Novem­ber. This in-depth meet­ing is based on the stu­dent’s port­fo­lio. By the end of the con­fer­ence, a fu­ture learn­ing goal will be de­ter­mined by the stu­dent, par­ent and teacher. Notes from each con­fer­ence are put into a stu­dent file, a copy of which is pro­vided to the par­ents. Just be­fore spring break, the stu­dent, teacher and par­ents par­tic­i­pate in an­other con­fer­ence, iden­ti­cal to the first. A for­mal writ­ten re­port is is­sued at the end of the school year that de­tails the third term and sum­ma­rizes a stu­dent’s progress. In ad­di­tion, teach­ers are ex­pected to pro­vide two in­for­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tions through­out the year, in the form of work sam­ples sent home, phone calls, meet­ings or progress check­lists.

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