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WOLF: B.C. letter grade debate gets high marks for provoking thought

COLUMN: All districts now use proficiency scale through Grade 9
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NEWS: The 2023-24 school year will be the first year all school districts in B.C. will implement a provincial proficiency scale instead of letter grades on student report cards from kindergarten to Grade 9.

VIEWS: I have been fascinated by this issue since it was first piloted in 2016-17.

Instead of letter grades, the scale uses the terms emerging, developing, proficient and extending to describe student learning. Students in Grade 10 through Grade 12 will continue with letter grades.

One big reason I’ve been fascinated by this is my own love of letter grades as a youngster. As a hyper-competitive lad, grades were like playing sports. The end game was winning, always. And the only way to win was to get straight A’s.

That was my motivation.

I’m certain that ‘extending’ wouldn’t have inspired me much, nor did I care much about the teacher comments on a report card.

They could have written “Philip is a vile miscreant who flicks boogers non-stop” and I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash as long as the letter grade was the one I craved.

So, kid version of me will always be a letter grade guy and it remains my natural first impulse. I’m also curious to see how youngsters (yes, among the most adaptable beings on the planet) will now fare going the entire way with no grades, then suddenly start on them in Grade 10.

It all dovetails nicely with the old guy shakes fist at cloud and proclaims “if it was good enough for me, that’s how it should remain” mentality that always has a large voice out there.

However, you’d hope with advanced age comes some changed perspective. My son enjoyed earning A’s as he worked his way through the system, but, as a more well-rounded human than his dad, wouldn’t have been crushed by a B.

And as a parent, I was surprisingly more focused on the teacher comments, in person and on a report card, than I was with the letter grades. That feedback helps you help the children, always a big part of the process.

That continues today with a 12-year-old in the home.

“Doing nicely, well-liked, respected and a leader to the younger students” is more important than a letter grade or other designation.

According to the Ministry of Education and Child Care, the modernized K-12 curriculum “continues to provide students with a strong foundation for core learning, such as with reading, writing and numeracy, while also teaching children how to communicate, solve problems and use their knowledge in ways that matter in school, post-secondary education and future careers.”

One thing I have learned all on my own over the years, is if you want to better understand something, talk to people who know more than you do.

In this case, I talked to a variety of educators, with a wide variety of interesting responses.

Some of their thoughts included:

“There is nothing new here and so far the Grade 10s have transitioned nicely. I might go on a rant as to why letter grades are bad!”

“I don’t think there should be grades on everything because anything done before a final test should be about learning and they can see what needs to be worked on.”

“Starting the grades in Grade 10 is a really poor idea, in my opinion.”

“No grades is harder on the keeners because they are the ones who thrive on the grades. Now, if you are ‘proficient’ at something it’s harder to motivate them to get to the ‘extending.’”

“We are giving more constant feedback and kids should know what they need to work on/improve on throughout the year.”

“I think it happened too quickly and there may possibly be a happy medium but I don’t know how that can happen.”

“Think about those students that grades did not motivate nor help them know what to do to get better grades. I would also state that grades are very subjective.”

Also this, from the ministry website:

“When you were in school, learning likely involved being asked to memorize information and repeat it on a test, only to forget it soon after. We now know good learning is not just memorizing – it’s being able to use what we know in real-world settings. Universities, colleges, and employers now care more about how students think than how many facts they can memorize and recall. This is why B.C. has changed what students are taught and is changing how they’re assessed.”

The memorization note definitely rings true for me, although I’m still working on the ‘forget’ part, with an endless amount of unusable information stored in the nether regions of my brain. And there definitely could have been a little more ‘real-world’ training.

Is there a way to combine the new and the old without creating more work for teachers?

As mentioned, I find the evolution of our education system fascinating.

We’ll definitely have an educator or two on our podcast to offer some more fleshed-out responses as well.

What are your thoughts on letter grades? You can vote in our online poll at www.pqbnews.com, or send me an email at the address below.

PQB News/Vancouver Island Free Daily editor Philip Wolf welcomes your questions, comments or story ideas. He can be reached at 250-905-0029 or via email at philip.wolf@blackpress.ca.

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Philip Wolf

About the Author: Philip Wolf

I’ve been involved with journalism on Vancouver Island for more than 30 years, beginning as a teenage holiday fill-in at the old Cowichan News Leader.
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