In this story, the National Post reports that Calgary has eliminated letter grades up till Grade 9. Similar movements are afoot in other jurisdictions. What is driving this change? Formative assessment certainly, but are there other factors?
In this time of tax and spending cuts it is hard not to be cynical. I hope that this policy shift is not being driven by a desire to push students through the middle school and junior high school years until they can be streamed into non-academic courses at the senior levels.
Currently, in British Columbia Math is not streamed until Grade 10. In Grade 9 all students take Math 9. In Grade 10 they have a choice between Foundations of Mathematics and Precalculus 10, which is academic, and Apprenticeship and Workplace Math 10, which is more focused on employment skills and trades math. In my experience, Math 9 is harder than Apprenticeship and Workplace Math 10. Many students fail Math 8 and 9, but can not be streamed into easier Math until Grade 10. A similar problem may exist in English Language Arts, which only has the easier Communications courses at the Grade 11 and 12 level.
Eliminating letter grades should allow teachers and students to focus on learning instead of simply jumping through the hoops of letter grade achievement. There must remain some sort of accountability for actually learning the material. I propose that streaming students at an earlier age into programs designed to fill trades may be a better solution for students who struggle academically for whatever reason.