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Maple Ridge schools say goodbye to A, B & D

Mike Saul, a teacher at Highland Park elementary, would like student grading to move away from the traditional letter system. - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Mike Saul, a teacher at Highland Park elementary, would like student grading to move away from the traditional letter system.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

Elementary school teachers in the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will no longer be required to grade students with an A, C+ or D.

Wednesday, the local school board approved a new elementary reporting alternate option, termed a student-inclusive conferencing model.

It will see teachers meet with students and parents to discuss progress, and an increased emphasis on student self-assessment.

Trustees were unanimous in their support of the new option, which was developed over two years by a local committee, headed by the district’s director of instruction, David Vandergugten.

Committee members noted the feedback from parents who have been involved so far is “through-the-roof positive.”

Two trustees have been through the new assessment process with their children.

“It was a phenomenal experience for me, as a parent and as a trustee,” she said. “I know you’re on the right track.”

“Conferences are way more valuable than the paper I got at home with the As and Bs on it,” added Susan Carr.

Committee members developed a process intended to open dialogue between parent, child and teacher. The conferences celebrate strengths, talk about learning needs, and set future goals. The report is filled out in a more consultative process. The committee members say it has an obvious effect on young learners.

“Even our kindergarten students are setting goals for themselves,” said Vandergugten.

“And not a single parent asked for a letter grade. No longer are they an A, B or C student.”

Vandergugten noted parents won’t see English or social studies courses with a letter grade beside them in the new reports. He explained students should be evaluated on literacy as it is “interwoven” throughout their course work.

The new system will call for student/parent conferences three times per year at report card time.

Kindergarten students are assessed in areas such as whether they are “helpful,” or can “figure things out” with E for Emerging, D for Developing or A for Applying.

They will also be assessed in areas of development, including physical, artistic, emotional and intellectual. There are spaces on the report for comments.

Grade 1-3 students will have a self-regulation page. The teacher will again mark students with E, D or A in areas such as, “I wait my turn before speaking,” and “I work carefully and do my best.” However, students will also check off a happy face or a straight-mouthed face in these areas.

The Grade 1-3 students will also be marked in literacy, numeracy, artistic development and other areas.

Grade 4-7 students will see more self-assessment in areas of communication, critical thinking and other areas of competency. They also get feedback in a detailed breakdown of their literacy and numeracy abilities.

Committee member Mike Saul of Highland Park elementary wrote a PHD thesis on the topic of grading. He determined that the letter grade system can be useful for grading some accomplishments, especially those requiring wrote memorization, such as times tables. He calls this “algorithmic performance.”

However, his research showed it is critical to move away from letter grades in areas requiring creativity or higher-level thinking skills, because students tend to limit themselves to the accomplishment that gets them their desired letter grade.

He explained that learning new things always engages the creative areas of the brain, and it is desirable for educators to push children to learn new concepts. Yet letter grades are a barrier to this kind of learning.

“In Grade 3, kids love to learn, but then we turn toward the letter grades, and throw them into this behaviorist system, where they work toward that A,” he said. “Students will do that, and no more.”

He was “incredibly happy” with the new reporting option developed by the local board. What’s more, he believes parents will agree with him.

One parent returned a report card to him with the note: “This is by far the most I’ve ever learned about my kid in school.”

The district has been ahead of the curve with this development. Vandergugten and superintendent Jan Unwin have been asked to serve on a Ministry of Education committee looking at elementary school reporting throughout B.C.

The new system will not be mandatory, and teachers can choose to continue with the traditional report card system. However, Vandergugten and the trustees said they are hoping for a viral spread of the alternate reporting option. The new option is supported by the teachers union.

Carr asked whether there are plans to take the new assessment methods to high school.

“Teenagers need to be engaged, set goals, and be involved in their learning,” she said.

Superintendent Jan Unwin answered that there are systems and structures “in the way” at the high school level.

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