It seems like whenever education makes headlines in BC, it’s about the incessant amount of crap being shovelled onto our school system. You hear about teachers being legislated back to work or the cost of tuition being too damn high (about $2,300 for three courses? You the best, SFU!), but the first week of classes this year brought good news for a change.
On January 6, the Surrey School District announced that it will be discontinuing the use of letter grades in several of their elementary schools, opting to use constructive feedback and comments as the sole representation of how a child is doing in class. The shift is meant to help provide more in-depth feedback for the students, as well as help parents better understand their child’s progression in class. Almost 40 elementary schools are now officially part of the letter grade-less program, which will be evaluated later this summer. Once the past six months have been analyzed, a decision will be made on whether or not the program will expand to the rest of the district.
As someone who’s going into education (and if we’re getting specific, early childhood development), I’m absolutely thrilled about the transition away from letter grades. I’m sure many parents are going to be worried about their child’s learning no longer being quantifiable, but the change is a big step towards helping improve the way educators, students, and everyone else see the school system.
The reality is that grades are rarely an accurate representation of the learning a student has achieved (ask anyone who’s received a minus grade when they could have easily had an even A, B, and so on). If you want me to get personal, I myself have a decent GPA in my fourth year of post-secondary. I hover comfortably around the B/B+ field, which is a goddamn miracle considering the amount of work I’m able to allot to my studies. It’s not that I intentionally neglect my schooling; it’s that between all of my jobs/volunteering/occasional sleeping, it’s hard to put in the required work that I know I should be doing. And yet, I’m somehow able to achieve relatively high marks without learning 9/10 of the course material. I would also like to publicly apologize to any of my former professors who are reading this. It’s not you folks; it’s me.
This unfortunate mentality has dominated my experience in post-secondary and it’s only in the past semester that I’ve begun to reconsider my approach to schooling. I’ve become obsessed with just finishing my degree so I can move onto a career, which is incredibly short-sighted. I need to be a sponge during this time and soak up all the knowledge/tips/trivia/networking I can in these years, but I’m instead focussed on the finish line. What I learn in a class is lower on my priority list than what my final mark is. I’ve never left an exam thinking “Yeah, I’m glad I learned all of that stuff and I’m glad I’m going to remember it when I’m applying this information to my actual career.” It’s always a grand exhale as I mentally freak out over whether or not my guesses will at least count for half-marks. It’s an incredibly flawed mindset, and the grade system is at least partially to blame for it.
I doubt we could ever completely remove the letter grade from our education system and I don’t think we necessarily should. It would make higher education a difficult filtration process of who would be allowed into what programs/classes (as elitist as it sounds, there needs to be a screening process) but that’s why it’s elementary schools undertaking the change. I’m sure the bumper sticker industry is furious at the prospect of no longer being able to produce “My child is an A-student at Overachievers Elementary School,” but I’m sure they have other sayings they can stickerify.
When it comes down to it, a report card for students without letter grades means they can focus on other parts of their education. Like, you know, the whole learning bit.
So it goes,