Many Vancouver elementary schools ditching letter grades

Other changes include formal written report cards reduced from three to two per year

Letter grades are disappearing on many elementary school report cards in Vancouver, replaced by more in-depth comments and a proficiency scale.

The changes, to be phased in over two years, will see formal written report cards sent home just twice each year, in January and in June, rather than three times, said Richard Zerbe, director of instruction, school services, at the Vancouver School Board.

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As well as the written reports, parents will also have at least three informal “reports” from teachers, such as parent-teacher conferences, phone calls or interim report cards.

Students in Grades 10 through 12 will still get letter grades — they remain important for university admission and scholarships — but those from kindergarten to Grade 9, will not.

The anecdotal written comments will include student strengths, areas for improvement and how the parent can support their child to reach their goals. The proficiency scale grade each student as beginning, developing, applying or extending in each subject.

“That’s going to take some getting used to for parents,” said Zerbe. “This is going to be a huge shift.”

Robert Ford, chair of the parent committee at Henry Hudson elementary in Kitsilano and the father of a son in Grade 6 and a daughter in university, said he’s a fan of letter grades, because they give some sense of how a student is doing in relation to their peers.

“My one wish is some way to place the child in the stream of things,” Ford said. “The knowledge of where you are in the pack would help parents.”  

However, Ford said the beefed-up teacher comments can be very helpful, particularly for parents who are shy and may not have regular contact with their child’s teacher.

“That is probably most valuable. Tell the parents what they need to do to help their child succeed,” Ford said.  

The changes are related to the recent curriculum redesign, which has a focus on big ideas and competencies, rather than specific content. The competencies at all grade levels are communication, thinking and personal and social understanding. Those are broken down into more detail for each grade level, but they focus on big ideas. For example, the kindergarten social studies curriculum includes the big idea that stories and traditions about ourselves and our families reflect who we are and where we are from.

“We no longer focus on what to know, but on what you do with what you know,” Zerbe said. “They’re not going to have teachers by their side their entire lives.”

If any parent doesn’t understand the new report card or wants more information, they are encouraged to make an appointment to speak to their child’s teacher, Zerbe said.

In my experience, a positive teacher-parent relationship means a better education for the child. The more communication the better. In retrospect, now that both of my kids are long gone from high school, letter grades really didn’t mean much apart from university entrance and scholarships.


On another note, the provincial government has backed off a controversial plan to change the way education for students with special needs is funded — at least for now. A recommendation from a 2018 report to allocate funding using a prevalence model — the expected number of students with special needs — rather than funding specific students, will not be implemented at this time, the provincial government announced Feb. 7.

Supporters said the prevalence model would save money in costs to identify students with special needs, but detractors said it would mean students might not get the supports they need.

Other recommendations from the report, such as a funding boost for foster children, will be implemented after the upcoming provincial budget, the government said in a news release.

 “Our government is doing things differently by putting the success and well-being of students first, while ensuring equity in the way we fund public education,” said Education Minister Rob Fleming.

B.C.’s teachers, who are more than a year into bargaining for a new contract with their employer, were relieved to hear the prevalence model won’t be implemented.

“[We] were concerned about the negative consequences for students with special needs, their parents, and their teachers,” B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said in a news release. “I hope this decision not to proceed with the prevalence funding model is permanent and that the promise for additional consultation will find a better way forward for teachers, students, and parents.”

Like the parent-teacher relationship, anything that improves the teacher-province relationship is good for kids.


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