By Vanessa Broadbent
The School District 53 board of trustees gave their support for local elementary schools to implement the Ministry of Education’s draft K-9 Student Reporting Policy.
Marcus Toneatto, the district’s Director of Learning and Inquiry, presented the policy at an Education Committee meeting on Wednesday.
The policy includes a new four-point grading system where students are marked as emerging, developing, proficient or extending, instead of the traditional letter grade system.
It also requires that parents receive a minimum of five reports annually: four points of progress throughout the year and a summary of progress report at the end of the year.
At least one of the four points of progress must include a student self-assessment on core competencies, a piece from the ministry’s new education curriculum adopted September 2016. Two of the reports must include descriptive feedback from the teacher on the students’ behaviour and well-being. One must also communicate student progress in each area of learning.
The end of year summary of progress is a written report of the students’ advancement in all subjects, including descriptive behaviour feedback and another student self-assessment.
Oliver Elementary School Principal Jason McAllister said his staff are supportive of the policy.
“Teachers are definitely ready for it. I brought it up in June and everybody said it made sense and meets the new curriculum better.”
McAllister spoke with the school’s Parent Advisory Council and addressed a misconception that moving away from letter grades means less assessment. He said “not one parent spoke up against it (the policy).”
“They understood it’s not removing student accountability at all. In fact, I think it’s increasing student accountability because there’s always that student who’s going to get that A, no matter what. This way, we can challenge those students more.”
Naryn Searcy, Principal of Similkameen Elementary/Secondary School in Keremeos, shared her support for the new policy as well, specifically the new four-point proficiency scale.
“Letter grades only rank; they don’t give us any specific information in regard to what students have learned.”
Searcy said she’s noticed that as students get older, less are motivated by grades.
“The more we shift to an efficiency scale, the more we’re engaging kids and involving them in learning and being more specific in what’s actually going on,” she said.
District Superintendent Beverly Young agreed, saying the proficiency scale emphasizes that learning is never done or finished.
“The real downfall of letter grades is it forces teachers to think that everything has to be translated into a number. We know that giving a student a number, particularly if they’ve been improving but it’s not a great number, stops learning.”
The policy is still in draft form and 16 districts in the province already started piloting the policy last school year. School District 53 will be a “tier-two pilot district,” meaning they can use the policy but are not required to implement it in every school or every grade from kindergarten to Grade 9.
“Taking parts of the order is actually a nice place to be because you don’t have to do all of it; you can take pieces of it and do it this year and still provide feedback to the ministry,” Toneatto said.
Although the board of trustees was not required to vote on the policy, they shared their support for it.
Trustee Rachel Allenbrand thanked administration for their clarity in the transition.
“I know some parents could be very attached to their letter grades so having this understanding will help.”
Trustee Debbie Marten said the policy is “really positive for kids.”
Toneatto noted that the district plans to communicate with parents extensively throughout the transition.
“There has to be a lot of communication,” he said. “We don’t want parents to feel like something is being rammed down their throat.”
Although parents won’t see letter grades on report cards, they will be available upon request for Grades 4 to 9.
Now it’s up to each elementary school in the district to decide whether or not to implement the draft policy, or wait until it is officially adopted in September 2019.