Going gradeless

B.C.’s new approach to student assessment aligns with a Christian philosophy of education.

This fall, British Columbia is moving to a gradeless system for kindergarten to grade nine and will continue to use letter grades for only the last three years of high school. This move affirms what many educators have long known to be true: we can do better than letter grades. Traditional grading systems are useful for ranking students and streaming them into multifaceted programs using a single metric, but when it comes to communication and learning facilitation, they are limited. In fact, some studies suggest that grades negatively impact innovation, imagination and creativity.

While letter grades give the illusion of finality, there are several “ungrading” approaches that see learning as an endless continuum that each student travels at their own pace. By focusing on what students can do while setting goals for further growth, alternative assessment systems can promote growth and learning without using fear as the key motivator for student achievement. Better than assigning a simple letter, “ungrading” methods offer parents and teachers more precise language for describing a student’s learning process and identifying areas that need more practice.

Looking at the example below, let’s pretend your child or grandchild is in grade seven math, which communication style would help you best support this learner?

Achievement: C+ 
Without support, your child can consistently add fractions with the same and different denominators.
With limited support from a teacher or peer, your child can arrange fractions represented as numbers from largest to smallest.
With significant support, your child can divide fractions and turn fractions into decimals and vice versa.
Comment: Your child works hard in math. She could pay a little more attention to details and not rush her work. The unit on fractions challenged her in new ways. More practice baking could help if she is doubling, tripling, or halving the recipe.

Christ-centered marking

Many parents desire quantitative assessment because it is all they know, and because they survived (or maybe thrived) in school when they were young. But reimagining our traditional letter grading approach not only improves parent-teacher information sharing and student learning outcomes, it also aligns more closely with the call to see each student as a unique image bearer of the Creator.

If you’re a caregiver of a K-9 student in B.C., you may still want to see letter grades on your child’s report card, but I encourage you to reflect on why you’re feeling that way. Are you holding onto letter grades because you are competitive and want to compare your child to other children? Is your child’s desire for letter grades motivated by selfishness, self-promotion or competition? Answering “yes” to any of these questions may indicate that the story you are living in around assessment and evaluation might not be the Jesus story. Jesus did not look at each of his disciples after 10 months and reduce their identity to a grade in attempts to quantify their work, struggle and growth. No. He called them forward regardless of where the disciples were in their journey, including low points involving failure, denial and doubt.

B.C.’s new gradeless approach, though instigated by the public system and implemented in every school, gives Christian schools a unique opportunity to move education and learning a little closer to the way of Christ.


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