Yukon schools to scrap letter grades up to Grade 9

The education department will move away from letter grades and formal report cards as it changes the way Yukon students are assessed.

The education department will move away from letter grades and formal report cards as it changes the way Yukon students are assessed.

The government is looking for feedback on the planned changes from parents, students, teachers and community members through an online survey released this week.

A group of 40 Yukon educators, the Yukon education assessment committee, came up with the proposed changes.

One of the major proposed changes would eliminate letter grades for students in grades 4 to 9. Younger students already do not receive letter grades.

Instead of receiving grades, students will be assessed using performance scales, which have categories ranging from “not yet meeting expectations” to “exceeding expectations.”

“When we go to a letter grade, we’re making a value statement,” said Nicole Morgan, assistant deputy minister of the public schools division. “When we do that, we interrupt the learning that students are participating in if we do that too soon.”

However, parents will still receive a chart showing which letter grade is linked to each performance category. Morgan said parents are used to letter grades and it would be confusing to scrap them outright.

“But for the students, we want that conversation to be not about chasing letter grades,” she said.

Students in grades 10 to 12 will still receive letter grades and per cent scores. But there, too, the department is proposing changes. Instead of averaging marks over a full term, grades would focus on the “most recent and consistent marks.”

The rationale is that students should be given a chance to learn from their mistakes.

“When we ask students to go deeper with their learning, when we push them to take risks … if we’re taking an assessment and marking their early attempts, we’re actually penalizing them for trying,” Morgan said.

Grades would also not reflect students’ behaviour, including attendance, incomplete work and even plagiarism. Those issues would be communicated to parents informally — during parent-teacher meetings, for instance.

Morgan acknowledged that in post-secondary schools, plagiarism is grounds for expulsion. But she said there are ways to teach students not to plagiarize that don’t involve grades.

The committee is also recommending fewer formal report cards.

Currently, teachers issue three formal report cards each year. Under the new guidelines, that would be cut down to one, with an increase from two to five informal reports.

Those informal reports could include meetings between the student, teacher and parents, a written report from the teacher, or a portfolio of the student’s work.

Morgan said more informal reporting will give parents a better sense of how their child is doing throughout the year.

According to the recommendations, at least one parent-teacher meeting each school year will be mandatory. But Jill Mason, president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association, said that could be a problem.

Mason said the teachers’ association hasn’t been consulted on the new guidelines, despite asking repeatedly. The association only received the report when it was made public March 16.

She said that currently, teachers meet with parents if they request it. But asking a teacher with four classes of 25 students each to meet with 100 sets of parents every year is a huge extra burden.

“Obviously, had we been consulted on that, we would have brought that point forward,” she said.

The committee also recommended teachers focus on “curricular competencies” as well as content — skills in communication, thinking and social interaction, for instance.

Morgan said universities have noticed that many students struggle with study and organization skills, and this change is an attempt to address that. Students will also be completing self-assessments.

As to whether the changes will make it easier for students to get good grades, Morgan said the goal is simply to make students “really engaged in their learning.”

“For me, I think the journey through school is very individualized to each student,” she said. “Some love school and it works for them, and others, the system doesn’t really work for them.”

The new assessment guidelines are also supposed to incorporate First Nations’ cultural practices, but Morgan said those details still have to be worked out.

She said the proposed changes are “very similar” to changes made in British Columbia.

The new guidelines are meant to complement the Department of Education’s new curriculum, to be rolled out over the next two school years.

Yukon schools will be phasing in the new guidelines over the next two years. The department will collect feedback before finalizing the new assessment process after the 2018-19 school year.

For now, Yukoners are asked to complete an online survey about the changes by April 12. The survey is available at www.education.gov.yk.ca/Assessment-survey.html.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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