Toward Post-Industrial Student Assessment

Beyond Grades

Student looking at a test grade
Photo by RDNE Stock project:

Writing in The Conversation, Victor Barr discusses the move away from letter grades for students in grades K to 9 in the Canadian Province of British Columbia. Beginning with this school year students will be assessed on a proficiency scale that conceives of learning as a continuum of stages of Emerging Developing, Proficient, and Extending. The intent is to provide more complete feedback to students to help them understanding their strengths and weaknesses to support further growth and development. Barr highlights how this approach is a break from grading systems of the industrial era which used fixed categories (A,B,C D…). He notes that it is more consistent with contemporary views of learning.

This change in assessment practice has generated a good deal of concern from parents who grew up with the traditional grading system. Parents seem particularly concerned with how their children might react when start receiving transitional grades in 10 grade. In addition, some parents are worried that the new system will make it more difficult to compare the performance of others and so might diminish the competitive spirit that motivates some students.

It is worth watching to see how the system develops and the impact on students in both the short and long terms. This might be a very informative large-scale test of a post-industrial approach to student evaluation. If practices evolve to provide individual students with tools to support their capacity for self-assessment, it could lead to stronger assessment overall and students more attuned to the needs of post-industrial adult life.

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