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SD48 assesses grade-less report card pilot project

Recap and survey to be sent home to parents

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With a pilot project on grade-less report cards wrapping up, Sea to Sky School District (SD48) stakeholders are taking stock and doing some assessment themselves.

The pilot project — which began in February and runs until the end of the school year — did away with traditional letter grades as assessment for some students in favour of more regular check-ins, ongoing conversations and different types of information going home to parents.

"One of the things that has happened is that over the pilot (project) time, when (parents) have experienced the kind of learning, the conversations that they're having with their sons and daughters... they're seeing a really unique and detailed window into what's going on with their learning, and they really are starting to appreciate it," said Peter Jory, SD48's director of instruction.

"A lot of people that may have been maybe a little bit reluctant are getting behind it."

(Jory will be leaving SD 48 this summer to become superintendent of SD 83 — North Okanagan-Shuswap.)

Twenty-five teachers in the district volunteered for the pilot, with about 825 students in Grades 4 through 9 taking part.

"I think what we found the most gratifying is that the focus has shifted from... 'Do I need to do this for an A?' to really the focus being on the learning, and the enjoyment of the learning," said Myrtle Philip Community School teacher Lisa Smart, who helped organize the design for the project.

"That, as a teacher, has been fantastic."

One big change for teachers has been how they manage their workloads.

"Typically to do a thoughtful report card at the end of the year is quite a time consuming process, (this is just) using the time in a different way," Smart said.

"Absolutely we're learning through the process of what's working and what's not working, and certainly the parent feedback on that and from the students of course is going to be helpful to help manage that, because we want this to be something that's sustainable as well."

While the BC Teachers Federation doesn't have a set position on ungraded assessment, teachers do agree that a student's progress is best measured by their classroom teacher, said Sea to Sky Teachers Association president Steve Lloyd.

"Standardized tests use 'multiple guess' responses to produce a number at a moment in time, to compare with other numbers in order to rank children in a process that is debatable in terms of reliability and validity at every step," Lloyd wrote in an email.

"Using the full range of their professional skills in classroom-based assessment, teachers together with their students of any school age can report to parents in exquisite detail what each child has learned — and often, what's to come next."

Though some parents have expressed concerns with grade-less reporting, teachers are legally bound to support school district initiatives, Lloyd noted.

"Parental concerns will be best expressed to principals and to the school district if support is being sought," he wrote.

"That said, teachers participating in the project are pleased and are fully able to explain its virtues."

The next step is to take feedback from the pilot project and present it to the board, which will use the information to consider long-term reporting practices.

Either way, it will be a gradual process.

"First of all, anybody who wants a letter grade can still get one, and that's the first concern (for parents)," Jory said.

"We don't want to move too quickly into a scenario where we're doing a practice that we don't understand or that our parents aren't ready for, or that our teachers are not going to be able to do comfortably... we're not going to go too quickly to having this being the practice — if we go there it will be over time, based on all the information that we're collecting and the work that we're doing supporting it — so this is a journey."

The survey will be issued right after final reporting — the board will consider the results along with the rest of the information provided for the K-12 Assessment Plan at the August school board meeting. 

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