Many schools at the elementary level are moving away from a system of report cards based on grades to one that takes a more holistic approach and focuses on a student’s “learning journey.” My daughter is at one such school, and her report cards are now based on a four-point proficiency scale: Emerging, Developing, Proficient and Extending, as shown below.
From both a parent’s and an educator’s perspective, I get why the shift is taking place – learning is a continuum and shouldn’t stop or start based on a letter grade; however, this new system doesn’t sit well with me for several reasons. The biggest issue I see is that this proficiency scale assumes that concepts will be revisited and that throughout the school year the child will have repeated opportunities to at least reach grade level in all areas, but this is not the case in all subject areas. The concept works better for subjects like Language Arts because the same rubrics are used all year long and so a child has the whole year to work on becoming proficient in areas such as reading and writing. On the other hand, the same can’t be said for subjects like Math, whereif a unit on (let’s say) fractions is completed, children will need to move on to the next unit regardless of if whether or not they finish it at the Developing or Emerging level – much the same as with the previous grading system – there is a finality. And so, my question is, when does the child get to revisit that unit again? In the next grade level? And what of parental support to help children at the Emerging and Developing levels? I find that not all parents understand that extra support at home is required because they are being sold on the idea that their child will achieve grade level when they achieve it, every journey is unique and not to worry. So, if the concept isn’t being revisited at school or at home – does the child simply remain at the Emerging or Developing stages? For how long?
My next issue is that most high schools are still using grades/percentages to report student progress. What happens to those students who have gone through elementary and middle school at the Emerging and Developing levels? Eventually, this will translate to Cs, Ds and Fs, and the reality of not passing will set in. And not only for the students but for the parents who have naively listened to educators telling them year after year that it’s okay for their children to be at the Developing or Emerging levels, and so they (parents) haven’t stepped in.
And what about applying for universities or colleges? Let's say a high school does switch to the four-point proficiency scale. How does a student with a "Proficient" on their report card compare to a student applying with clearly defined grades using letters/percentages? Will they have an equal chance of acceptance?
The reality of the current education(al) system is that the “continuum” concept of learning and reporting isn’t perfect, it does have its flaws, and it does reach an endpoint – ultimately grades do matter and until they don’t across the board, are we doing a service or a disservice to our students? Questions I ponder …
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