Eventually, students in Chilliwack won’t receive letter grades on reports until Grade 9, the first year of high school.

B.C. middle school phasing out letter grades

Elementary and middle school will soon all have proficiency scales for report cards

Eventually, students in Chilliwack won’t receive letter grades on report cards until Grade 9, the first year of high school.

The change was discussed during a presentation by local principals to the school board on Tuesday night, as part of an overview of changes to curriculum and grade configuration. Both have figured heavily in what school looks like at each level. New curriculum has been rolling out over the past few years from the Ministry of Education, and this was the first school year that grades shifted at the elementary, middle and high school level.

One of the biggest changes still to be seen is a shift from letter grades to a ‘proficiency scale.’ Elementary students and their parents will be familiar with this scale, which shows how a child is handling different skills in the classroom. There are four levels of achievement — beginning, developing, applying and extending.

That type of scale puts the “focus on the process of learning rather than the product,” said Angela Utley, principal at Unsworth elementary. “The narrative is more important than any letter grade could be.”

Paula Gosal, principal at Chilliwack middle school, and Danielle Wicker, vice-principal at Mt. Slesse middle school, added that the lowering of middle school grades has meant some big changes in their schools. And soon, letter grades will be another change.

“We too are shifting away from letter grades,” Wicker said, noting that a gradual transition will take place over three years.

Starting in September, the proficiency scale style of reporting will follow this year’s Grade 5 students into middle school for their Grade 6 year. Grade 7 will begin using a proficiency scale in 2020, and Grade 8 students will begin in 2021-2022.

Acting superintendent Rohan Arul-pragasam said the scale supports the redesigned curriculum rolled out to schools.

“That (curriculum) reflects a continuum of learning and emphasizes a fundamental shift in how we design engaging learning environments and how we communicate the process of learning to students and parents,” he said.

When Trustee Heather Maahs expressed concern about taking letter grades away at that level, Gosal said the reports lead to “more consistent communication at home,” when skills are lagging. With many students at the middle school age, a poor grade can be disastrous to learning, she added.

“When our kids see that letter grade, the shutters come down,” she said.

But the grades will reappear in high school, at the Grade 9 level. Within this new configuration, Grade 9 has students exploring high school for one year before their graduation transcripts are being formed. With one year to get used to the flow of high school, students may be better equipped to succeed in Grades 10 through 12, said Jessica Adams-Loupret, the principal at Chilliwack secondary.

“A number of kids do come to us with lagging skills,” she said. “And very quickly they would fail courses.”

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