Canadian School District Puts New Spin on Traditional Grades

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The Anglophone West School District in New Brunswick is, according to administrators, moving away from traditional grades. This is the same kind of spin doctoring we often see in the U.S., as Anglophone West’s “new” grading system isn’t new at all.

With likely good intentions, Anglophone West is removing traditional grades from report cards, replacing them with a beta system that uses letters like P and PW, which mean “progressing” and “progressing well.” Oh, let’s not forget “PD,” which is designed to report that a child is “progressing with difficulty.”

In the podcast below, Ann Sherman, a local college dean attempts to explain this “new” reporting system to CBC News. Much of what Sherman says makes sense, when considering what legitimate assessment should look like. The problem is she contends that moving from traditional grades like A, B, C to P, PW and PD creates an improved report on student achievement.

While Sherman is right about using work samples and narratives to describe learning, she is wrong to suggest that Anglophone West’s new report cards are at all different from the old ones. Any attempt to measure learning using marks–whether those marks are A, F, P or 0 to 100–is impossible. Suggesting that the P system is a new way to report learning is spin doctoring at its finest or at its worst, depending on your point of view.

Creating a “new” reporting system, while purportedly eliminating traditional grades, is admirable. Moving from old labels to new labels, though, is ill-conceived and is as harmful to learning as traditional grades are.

There’s plenty more on this subject at the Teachers Throwing Out Grades Facebook group and the #TTOG Twitter chat. Please share your thoughts there and in our comment section below.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.
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