THE FLAW IN "GRADELESS" SYSTEMS
Many schools are moving away from traditional grading systems and going “gradeless,” such as in British Columbia, Canada, where they are currently using a four-point provincial proficiency scale that categorizes student progress using the following terms: Emerging, Developing, Proficient, and Extending. Theoretically speaking, there are benefits to moving in this direction; practically speaking, it seems that somewhere along the lines the thought of proper implementation and resources to support a “gradeless” system was missed and as a result student learning isn’t being adequately supported.
Though the above statement may seem bold, it’s a truth that needs to be addressed as the textbooks and materials currently used at schools were for the most part never developed to support “gradeless” systems; they were designed to support letter or percentage grade systems thus offering a standard set of textbooks or materials meant for all students in a classroom, regardless of ability. And for that purpose, they absolutely work. That said, when it comes to “gradeless” systems, where teachers are evaluating students based on their skill levels, these resources don’t work because it’s no longer about moving students through grade levels, it’s about moving students from “emerging” to a minimum of “proficient” in each strand of the curriculum. And if the end goal has shifted to allow students to progress through concepts at their own pace, then we need to design resources that are compatible with this goal. Instead of single textbooks and materials that cater to all students, we need differentiated and scaffolded resources that support the aim of “gradeless” systems.
Imagine for a minute the difference it would make in a “gradeless” system classroom if differing sets of resources were provided – one for “emerging” learners, one for “developing” learners, one for “proficient” learners and yet another for “extending” learners. Imagine a student who is demonstrating an emerging knowledge of a concept being able to work their way to a proficient level through ready-made scaffolded materials, and learners at the proficient levels being pushed to eventually demonstrate a more in-depth knowledge of the subject through differentiated materials. Imagine the impact that would make on student learning.
If this is truly the direction education is moving in as a whole – towards “gradeless” systems – then isn’t it time that the resources and materials being developed move in this direction as well? A thought I ponder for now.
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