Posted by: darcymullin | March 5, 2013

Improving Communication without Letter Grades

I have written before about letter grades and how our school is moving away from them.  This year our entire intermediate team has chosen to be part of the ongoing pilot started by Carol Barton.  The district has given us permission to not use letter grades on our report cards.  However, if parents request them we are to provide them.  In the first term, we only have 3 parents (total out of 4 classes) ask for letter grades.

Overall, I think it has been a huge success.  Kids in my class are no longer asking me, “what’s this worth?” or “what did I get?”.  The focus remains on learning and the process of acquiring knowledge.  Even though we feel we are seeing progress, there is still lots of room for improvement.  When we handed out report cards in term 1 we asked for feedback.  It was important to us that in the absence of letter grades we were able to communicate where students were in their learning and where they were with respect to the Provincial standards.  The feedback we received was mixed, so we knew we had some work to do.

report cards

Report cards are going home next week and one of our teachers (Darcy Fedorak) created this document that we are using to help bridge the gap.

After the first report card of the year initiated some interesting feedback, we are including this explanation of the performance standards we are using at Giant’s Head Elementary in grades 4 and 5.  We hope this helps with your understanding of how your child’s achievement is reported for this second term.

If this is not enough information, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  We believe the information we are providing you is more informative than a letter grade.  The performance standards are provided to us by the Ministry of Education.

Your child’s achievement is matched to a description on a scale or continuum as described by the markers known as the Performance Standards or levels: Not Yet Meeting, Minimally Meeting, Approaching/Close to Fully Meeting, Fully Meeting or Exceeding Expectations.  The expectations for our class are “at a grade five level”.

Not Yet MeetingExpectations Students who are not yet meeting the expectations have not yet been able to show enough understanding at the grade five level.  This could mean they are not able to show any understanding, or they are missing several key pieces.
MinimallyMeetingExpectations Students who are minimally meeting the expectations are now showing some understanding.  Their work shows limitations in-depth of understanding or they are missing a couple of key pieces. They have, however, achieved a minimal score or result during evaluations.
Approachingor Close  to Fully MeetingExpectations This category has caused the most confusion.  As educators have felt there is quite a large leap from minimally to fully meeting expectations, we wanted to honour student progress as they move between the two levels of performance standards.  The term “approaching” is used differently in the primary grades compared with grades 4 – 8.  The intermediate teachers use “approaching” to describe student achievement that is more than minimally meeting, but does not quite show the depth of understanding required for fully meeting expectations of grade five standards.  In the first term, we used “close to fully meeting” to respect the fact that many parents were used to the term “approaching” from the primary report cards as a descriptor for what we identify as minimally meeting. The students in my class are very familiar with the term “approaching” as it is used daily to describe their achievement.
Fully MeetingExpectations Students are able to show a complete understanding of concepts and their achievement is in line with the expectations for grade five students.  Our goal is to have students achieve this level of understanding in all areas.
ExceedingExpectations This category or standard level is to acknowledge when students go beyond expectations.  Many students will not be able to meet the requirements of this standard level, nor should they be expected to do so.  Often this student achievement is more closely related to higher grade expectations.  This could include taking their understanding in creative, alternative directions or they show exemplary extensions in depth and breadth.

I think this is a great document and a step in the right direction.  The language we use as educators is often confusing, but I think this will help clarify for parents where their child is with respect to Grade Level expectations.  I think it goes a long way in demystifying the “edu-speak” we as teacher often use.

Is it perfect?  No.

A compelling argument I have heard is that by going to this language we are just replacing a 10 point scale ( based on %) for a 4 point scale.  I agree with this assertion, but I know this is a step in the right direction.  I don’t want to belabour the point, but kids are not focusing on results, but on process and learning and that is truly what’s important.

I am sure of one thing.  The movement away from letter grades has impacted students in a positive way.  It is hard to quantify, but there is an attitudinal shift.  Students are more willing to take chances and try innovative things.  Their mindset has changed and they are more confident and willing to take risks in their learning.

We still have some tweaking and learning to do.  We are in the early stages of this project, but I know we are moving in the positive direction.



  1. […] I have written before about letter grades and how our school is moving away from them. This year our entire intermediate team has chosen to be part of the ongoing pilot started by Carol Barton. T…  […]

  2. Great post Darcy!

    While I understand the assertion that a 10 pt (%) scale has been replaced with a 4 pt scale, I think it’s a little misleading. Moving to “levels” often requires us to examine evidence of learning more holistically. In other words, we look at the evidence as a whole and make a determination as to what level the student is at. For knowledge and reasoning skills we would likely defer to the “most recent” evidence in order to accurately reflect a student’s current level of proficiency; for larger demonstrations of learning (performance & products) we would more likely use the “most frequent” evidence. Fundamentally this shifts us to a more standards/outcome-based mindset, rather than on point accumulation and filling in each of the boxes in our electronic gradebook; essentially we use a “portfolio” mindset when it comes to how we collect and examine evidence of learning.

    This shift can be difficult for some so changing the scale can often lead us to re-examining how we determine proficiency and how we look for trends rather than adding up the numbers.


  3. […] I have written before about letter grades and how our school is moving away from them. This year our entire intermediate team has chosen to be part of the ongoing pilot started by Carol Barton. T…  […]

  4. […] Improving Communication without Letter Grades ( […]

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