After promises for change and seven months of feedback and review, report cards for K-9 public school students will maintain the one-to-four grading scale that has been criticized by parents for years.
Administrators with the Calgary Board of Education presented updates to report cards this week, outlining changes in language and additional categories defining student achievement. But grades of only one, two, three or four will continue, concerning parents who call the system vague and misleading.
Parents are frustrated they still won’t get the clarity they want with students not graded on a percentage scale, particularly in the critical junior high years before high school where a variety of levels are offered in core subjects.
“The most important question is whether this is working for parents and students. And the overwhelming feedback I am getting is that it is not. And I have spoken to dozens and dozens of parents,” said Sarah Bieber, spokeswoman for the Kids Come First advocacy group.
“Not one parent I have ever spoken with has said they like the one-to-four system.”
Bieber, who has four children attending public schools, says she is particularly concerned about her son who is in Grade 9. He receives a variety of grades in different subject areas, but she is still not sure where he would be best placed for high school, whether that’s a regular program, Advanced Placement — which is more challenging academically — or the elite stream of International Baccalaureate programming, which is rigorous, academically advanced and even allows students to begin university-level courses.
“He is getting threes and fours in different areas. And I’m not always sure what that means,” said Bieber, explaining a three could be as low as a 60 per cent out of 100, or as high as a 79.
Bieber stressed that while she has often received good communication directly from teachers, it is the report cards themselves that are the issue, and the limitations of the grading system.
Bieber is also concerned the CBE has gone ahead with a report card review but has not reached out to enough parents for feedback.
“No one in the CBE has ever asked me, or anyone else I know, what my thoughts are on report cards,” Bieber said.
“I would like the CBE to just say, ‘this is what parents are telling us and this is why we are ignoring them.’ ”
But Joanne Pitman, CBE superintendent of school improvement, said there have been several changes to assessment that will provide better clarity for parents.
Although the grade scale remains on a one-to-four level, the definitions for two of the grades have changed. Previously, a grade of one meant a “limited or insufficient” level of understanding. Now that has been changed to “beginning level.”
“The intent is when you’re applying a one to a student it doesn’t mean they’re stopping their learning. If you say your learning is limited, where do you go next?” Pitman said.
“It should be about moving forward rather than remaining at.”
The definitions for two, which means “developing,” and for three, which means “well-developed,” remain unchanged.
And while a grade of four used to mean a “subtle and thorough” level of understanding, it now means a student has achieved a “mastery level” of the material.
But Pitman said assessment is about more than just attaching number grades to achievement. Teachers are encouraged to provide ongoing communication, from email to online student information sites such as Power School.
“We’re not just averaging out achievement as a number. We are able to describe achievement. Here is what I know, here is the evidence and here are the areas and skills that need to be worked on.”
But parents say vague language has simply been replaced with more vague language, and there is still no clarity.
Cherelle Payne, who once had five children in the public system but has recently moved to Airdrie, said students in junior high deserve specific percentage grades, not just a rearrangement of vague wording.
“When my son was in junior high at the CBE, for years he received threes in math. But I was never really sure where he was at. Now he’s in Grade 12 and we’re still feeling the effects of that.”
Math report cards will also now include additional achievement categories of numbers, patterns and relations, shape and space. And grades 5 to 9 will also include a fourth new category called statistics and probability.
As well, parents can go online to the CBE’s website for more detailed explanations of what defines the different grades in the one-to-four system.
But Payne said many parents have neither the time nor the language skills to decode their child’s report card online. And there is nothing more universal, or internationally understood, she added, than a percentage grade out of 100.
Since last summer, the CBE received feedback from about 100 parents connected with school parent councils and will continue to reach out to parents during this second reporting period.
Still, Pitman stressed the CBE will stick to the one-to-four grade system.
“At this point, we will not be moving away from the one-to-four grading scale for K-9 students.”
But Trustee Lisa Davis said she still struggles with that grade scale, arguing the CBE should reach out to a much higher number of parents to get their feedback on report cards, possibly through an online survey.
“At the end of the day, the report card exists to inform students and parents of their achievement levels, so it is their opinion that matters the most on changes. I am fully in support of CBE surveying parents on how well the one-to-four system is working for them, particularly for junior high students, as those parents have clearly indicated to me that it doesn’t give them the information they want.”
Davis, elected in 2017, ran her campaign with the Students Count slate — along with trustees Mike Bradshaw and Althea Adams — promising to fix report cards and provide parents with more clarity.
Adams said she is impressed with administration’s review and says the one-to-four system now provides enough clarity.
“The new categories are more helpful and even as a parent I am finding things to be more clear.”
Bradshaw refused to comment, did not return Postmedia’s messages and did not comment or ask any questions during the report card presentation at the board meeting.