At the beginning of each year, I am asked by parents, “What is the homework load for my child?”
What they’re really asking is, “Will you see my child if she is soaring to new heights and needs to stretch?” Or, “Will you see my child if she is flailing under an avalanche of anxiety?”
Really, “Will you see my child?” is the point.
Teachers and administrators are tasked with educating students and effective assessment is integral to the process. Yet the predominant form of assessment via grading eliminates opportunities for comprehensive evaluation and in fact offers a narrow view of one’s abilities.
In response to the IJ’s Sept. 17 article, “Private schools join up to dump A-to-F grading,” I applaud the goal of the Mastery Transcript Consortium to create a more balanced approach to grading and wanted to highlight that changing the grading system is just the beginning of a needed overhaul in how we as educators prepare our students for their future.
The Mastery Transcript Consortium advocates for change due to good reason. As Madeline Levine documented years ago in “The Price of Privilege,” we who live in Marin see stress bubbling up from our students and their parents on a daily basis.
Anxiety about college and future work is one culprit.
According to the World Economic Forum, in less than five years our lives will be even more transformed by advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Listen to a handful of the jobs predicted by the Institute for the Future: soil programmer, pre-crime analyst, neuro-marketer, (and my favorite) gut florist.
We can’t predict and teach to each future job. That’s why we need to teach students to think, to adapt and to search.
I ask you, is it possible for a single letter grade to measure a student’s ability to adapt, or would an authentic demonstration and narrative assessment better measure learning?
Moreover, the purpose of education has expanded beyond offering mere content and a student’s success extends far beyond letter grades on a report card. The future is dependent on kids who also master life skills. These include social intelligence, cross cultural competence, virtual collaboration and computational thinking.
To measure such life skills requires that we adapt our assessment techniques beyond letter grades.
As parents and schools across the country debate the adoption of the new grading standards proposed by the Mastery Transcript Consortium, I wanted to offer a perspective of a school right here in Marin that has been using narrative grading for the last 15 years. Greenwood School has used comprehensive teacher reports and standards-based criteria to provide a fuller picture of the whole child — assessing for academic achievement, artistic expression and life skills like the ability to focus (mindfulness) and compassion (emotional intelligence).
As educators, our goal is to release into the world students who have grit, a zest for life and are grounded in the belief that they can tackle any problem that comes their way. It is a fuller picture than any traditional grading system can depict and while at Greenwood we do believe there is a place for letter grades in middle school, we augment them with a narrative on each student, written by teachers who truly understand kids.
In this way, we can reassure the parents that their child is actually seen. After all, isn’t the goal of grades and assessment to offer a full picture of a student who is prepared for their future?
Shaheer Faltas is the head of school for Greenwood School in Mill Valley and was selected as a finalist for the California Legislature Assembly’s Project Tomorrow’s Innovation in Education Awards for use of science, math and technology in the classroom.
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