Letter Grades vs Performance Reviews

Image result for letter grades

I tend to be out of date when it comes to local news. I also do not have kids, so please don’t judge if I’m late to the party on this debate!

I recently found out that there is a huge push to ditch letter grades in BC schools from K-9. Here’s a recent article outlining this movement:


When I think about this movement, immediately the teacher inside of me says YES! Learning should be about learning. The anxiety and focus on assessment in schools often detracts from learning so this is a great idea. The problem becomes what replaces grades.

When I was in K-4 my school was running a similar pilot program. Instead of traditional letter grades, we received a “G” (good), “S” (satisfactory), or “N” (needs improvement). Along with the “new” letter grade, there would be feedback. The feedback was of the sort that I’m pretty sure they were canned responses from an approved list. I can understand why this system failed. The letter grade system was ditched for another letter grade system with less options.

The proposed replacement in this new movement is a meeting between the teacher, parent, and child. I think this is great. It turns evaluation from a system of grading into one of continuous conversation. One of the core objectives I see in my own practise is to foster self-directed and self-regulating learners. In these meetings assessment is modeled to the learner, so that they can better apply these skills in the future.

While these assessment meetings are great–in theory–do they not resemble the dreaded annual performance review? Similar to the movement to ditch letter grades, many corporations are moving to ditch the annual performance review. Here’s a great Harvard Business Review article on this phenomena:


I think this put us–and our children–in an interesting position. While these meetings are a great idea, I can envision many a parent bringing in their own anxieties of evaluation via performance evaluation to the school meetings. Children may then learn to fear these, much like the letter grade system.

Ultimately, in the real world, there are no letter grades. If our objective is to prepare learners to thrive “out there” self-regulating skills are a must. This may not be the end answer, but we’re moving in the right direction.












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