Re. Why B.C. has ended letter grades up to Grade 9
Victor Brar points out that communication with parents regarding the new proficiency scale has been lacking from the Ministry of Education, school district leaders, principals and educators. This certainly seems to be true in my experience. However, what also appears to be lacking is communication between the regulator (the ministry) and the frontline staff about how to use this new system.
This past year, in School District 43, I observed my child’s school begin a transition toward the proficiency scale. It was evident that each teacher has their own approach and that the teachers are struggling to grasp this new system that has no numerical values. It was explained to me by the school’s principals that Proficient is the most any student should expect to obtain, as it means the student is meeting expectations or the standard; Extending is reserved for those with particular talents — for example, in the principal’s words, a jock in gym class. Then I observed that teachers were assigning numbers to the proficiency scale, usually 1 to 4, with 1 being assigned to Emerging, 2 to Developing, and so forth. Most assignments were being graded on a scale of 1 to 4. A student who achieved the expected standard could expect to receive a score of 3 out of 4. The education system also, as expected, taught my child that 3 out of 4 translates to 75 per cent (the irony!).
One particular teacher decided to grade assignments out of 3 so that students still had the opportunity to excel beyond the standard, and that teacher would sometimes assign a grade of, say, 3.5 out of 3 to communicate that the standard had been met and exceeded. This demonstrates that teachers have indeed been told that Proficient is the norm, and that some teachers struggle with the concept that meeting expectations no longer nets a score approaching 100 per cent. This new system severely handicaps the teachers’ abilities to communicate how good of a job a student did.
What we are now teaching our kids is that meeting expectations nets you 75 per cent, and that in order to achieve 100 per cent you have to be pretty well in a league of your own, an outlier. No wonder this new system is so confusing and controversial — what parent wouldn’t be confused that 75 per cent is the new 100 per cent? What parent wouldn’t question if there was room to help their child develop if they see assignments and report cards indicating the equivalent of 50 per cent and 75 per cent, and only rarely see 100 per cent? After all, the minimum grades required to enter many post-secondary institutions in our own province are well above 75 per cent.
When we set standards in our schools, intentionally or otherwise, we set the culture and tone for the entire community. Declaring 75 per cent as good enough and then making the next possible increment 100 per cent, and available only to the few outliers at the far end of the spectrum, we set the tone for what effort all members of the school community need to apply — don’t try to shine unless you already shine naturally on your own.
As Dr. Brar points out, communication is lacking, but so is implementation. As the Ministry of Education attempts to reinvent the wheel, their intentions may be completely undermined by poor implementation as teachers find ways to revert to some sort of system that makes sense to them and parents.
David Weston, Coquitlam