Calgary schools plan to drop letter grades in 2014

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In Calgary, the largest city in Alberta and Canada’s fifth-largest metropolitan area, letter grades are about to disappear from report cards for children between kindergarten and ninth grade.

The Calgary Board of Education is scheduled to implement the new grading scheme in September 2014, reports the National Post. Teachers will assess students using the terms “exemplary,” “evident,” “emerging” and “support required.”

Other grading changes are afoot as well. Report cards will come out only twice each year, not three to six times, which has been the norm. Nor will the reports contain long, personalized comments.

School officials said the new evaluation system is intended to provide a level of precision that a numeric percentage, say, or an ‘A’ or a ‘C’ cannot.

“If you know as a parent that your child has received 82 percent, it’s very difficult to know what to do to help them,” the board’s education director Ronna Mosher told the Post.

Parents will learn that their children are “evident” or perhaps “emerging” in categories such as “math reasoning” and “communicates effectively through listening and speaking.”

The junking of letter grades will also placate teachers who have been chafing over the time it takes to write lengthy, personalized comments.

“If you’re doing that for every student under your direction, talking about their growing and personal development and citizenship and add in all the other courses, it takes a lot of time,” said Frank Bruseker, president of the Calgary Public Teachers’ Local 38, according to the Post.

The new plan is for teachers to present themselves to students more as coaches than as instructors. At the same time, communication with parents is supposed to become a constant stream of less formal communication throughout the school year.

University of Calgary education professor Jim Field explained that the new grading system is in accord with the latest teaching trends.

“The education research says this: that grades don’t communicate really well with parents,” Field told the Post. “What does an ‘A’ in language arts in Grade 3 mean? What can that student do with the language? Can they comprehend the text well in terms of concrete, real world skills?”

However, not everyone is embracing the move away from traditional academic evaluations. Many parents are doubtful about the merits of the new system, which hasn’t been broadly debated in public.

“This is really dumb and my daughter thinks it’s stupid,” representative skeptical parent David Hartwick told the Calgary Herald.

Hartwick said he found out about the new grading format via a newsletter from his kid’s middle school, which is part of an early pilot program.

“The parents don’t like it. The kids don’t like it,” the angry dad griped to the Herald. “And I’m getting the feeling the teachers don’t like it, either. They say it’s too difficult to say where the kids are really at.”

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