A week ago I got an email from our PAC president asking if my Vice Principal (Todd Lindsay) and I would do a presentation on something current in education at our next meeting. After talking it over we decided it would be very timely to talk about the impact of letter grades on student learning.
Last year one of the teachers in our school (Carol Barton) piloted a “no letter grade” policy in her class. It involved meeting with parents before the first term and outlining the process. The caveat is/was that letter grades would be available upon request. The project went exceptionally well and in the final term only four parents requested letter grades.
This year, being new to the school my Todd and I wanted to continue with the no letter grade program with our grade 5 class. We went through the same procedure of meeting with parents. What was interesting however, is that we only had two parents come. We took that to mean that parents were quite comfortable with the process. In fact, we only had three parents request letter grades in the first term. When things get back to normal (here in BC) teachers in our school want to make it a school wide policy, which is why we thought it would be a great discussion to have with our PAC.
Any educator on Twitter or other forms of Social Media know there are a number of people who tweet and blog about the negative impact of letter grades on learning. These educators aren’t making it up – there is a lot of research that supports abolishing letter grades. In fact, I have never read anything in support of them. However, for my presentation I wanted to take a different approach.
I thought context matters, so I sent a tweet out to my #bced PLN. I really wanted a Western Canadian perspective. I was inundated with tweets. I had a number of great conversations with both parents and educators. The parent perspective is huge, because growing up in our system, letter grades have meaning to them. They know what an A means, but they do not understand what assessment for learning is…we need to involved them in the process. In the end, I decided to take some of the tweets from my PLN and use them as the basis for our conversation with parents.
See the presentation here.
The presentation was very well received. I was surprised by the level of support from the parents. Initially, there was many questions, but as we answered their questions they became more and more supportive of the process.
To me, it is very clear. In BC we are on the verge of some big changes. I agree with Chris Wejr when he says that we need to build trust with parents and meet them where they are at. Once we develop trust and engagement they will be willing supporters of the change process.