In looking at student success, it used to be that teachers could simply assign a letter grade or a percentage point to a project or period of time, which would tell a student – and their parents – how well they were doing in a particular subject or discipline.
That’s been changing, however, and will continue to do so.
“We’re actually really pretty pleased with the direction the ministry is going,” superintendent Tom Longridge told the School District 72 (SD72) Board of Education at their last public meeting when updating them on the curriculum implementation and grading practices, “not only in the curriculum improvement pieces that we’re seeing, but also in the assessment practices and being consistent in giving districts the ability to actually do that and have that conversation and change the conversation in regard to assessment within the school community.
“This, we believe, is an exciting time in regard to assessment.”
Assistant superintendent Nevenka Fair also outlined for the school district board last week how this process has been going here in Campbell River in anticipation of coming provincial changes.
She says the government started letting districts decide on grading practices a few years ago, at which point SD72 did away with the traditional “report card” model in elementary school and moved towards having open lines of communication between teachers, students and parents about how a child is progressing.
“A letter grade or a percentage doesn’t actually help the student understand what they need to do next. We need to be engaging students in their self and peer assessment and just constantly be moving forward,” Fair says.
“So we started looking at the research around assessment for learning, where you’re not stopping and judging kids,” Fair says. “We’re not stopping their learning and asking them to prove their learning. We are, along the way, asking them to help us in co-creating the criteria for success and understanding what the destination looks like.”
And teachers and parents within the school district are seeing the benefits of this strategy, Fair says.
“As we’ve been doing that, some of the benefits that we’re seeing – at least in anecdotal comments from parents and teachers – are that kids are more engaged; kids can talk about their learning.
They can say, ‘what am I learning, how am I doing in my learning, and where do I need to I go next.’ And that’s really exciting.
You talk to some middle school educators, and they’re saying that kids are less saying ‘what did I get?’ or, ‘does this count?’ and rather the conversation is about their learning.”
As the school district has been engaged in this process, Fair told the board, the Ministry of Education has been developing their own structure for educational assessment and reporting, “and we’ve been waiting for some policy and sort of been crossing our fingers that what we’re doing is aligned with that.”
It turns out the Ministry of Education is seeing the same things as SD72, because much of the ministry’s new interim assessment and reporting policy, released to districts in August, “falls in line with what we’ve been doing,” Fair says.
“We know there are improvements to be made, as there is with any initiative – and this was a huge initiative – and so we’re looking forward to getting feedback and helping support not only kids but also teachers as we move forward,” she says, and acknowledges that one of the improvements that needs to be made is that, “we have to do a little more engagement with parents.”
But most importantly, Fair says, is that the school district – along with the Ministry of Education – is moving towards a place where, “instead of looking at, ‘what did kids get?’ – whether it’s awards or how many ‘A’s or whatever – we want to look at improvement made.
We want to look at how many kids are actually improving each year.”