“But, what’s his grade?”

It’s not hard to answer the question. All I have to do is look on my computer and I can tell a parent their child’s grade. As a teacher, compassionate about gradeless and growth mindset, being faced with the question, “What’s my child’s grade?” puts me in a state of panic. It feels like I’m being pushed up against a wall, against my will, and forced to hand over the “goods.” I get that I am obligated to share this information with parents, but who says teachers cannot try to use knowledge and justification first? Instead of handing over the “goods,” why can’t we try to talk about it first?

I was recently faced with this question and here is how I got around it. I knew that when this parent asked me for this child’s mark, a wall would get built up the moment I shared that information with them. If I said, “B – 78%,” they would be satisfied with that overall mark and disregard any notion of improvement or advancement of learning. I couldn’t, I just couldn’t give out that mark. I had to explain more.

So I did.

Thank you for your email.

Mack* is doing well in my class and has good work habits.

The new assessment language can be confusing for parents, but I am happy to explain it.

The focus is on curricular competencies (skills) as outlined by the ministry of education.

So at EMERGING, students are just learning the skill. At BEGINNING, they are trying but either have a very limited understanding or need a lot of support to do it. At DEVELOPING, students have a pretty good handle of it, but there may be gaps. At DEVELOPING, it is considered proficiency, so developing is a great goal! At APPLYING, students have a complete understanding and at EXTENDING, they have an overflowing or thorough understanding (they may be able to teach others, in fact).

Students can aim for a “level up” in any skill, so assessments are not finite (like what I’m doing with literature circles skills — in flux, changing as they show improvement). If Mack would like to increase in any area, he can see me. It may mean some extra work on his part, but I love to see kids strive to attain a learning mindset!

While I would like to give Mack’s mark, I would like to wait until he has attempted all the curricular competencies for the course, and given the chance to work towards greater proficiency if necessary. The new assessment language gives a better snapshot of your child’s skills than a letter grade can. At the end of the year, I will eliminate early assessments of skills and show you the growth. Then, I will be confident about supplying you with a letter grade that summarizes all of these areas.

If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to email or Fresh Grade me.

Shannon Schinkel

What’s the worst thing that could happen after pressing SEND? That parent could request the mark regardless and I would have to pony it up. Fair enough. But guess what? The response I got was an enthusiastic: Thank you for the response. I appreciate you taking the time to explain the assessment language so thoroughly.  And that was that.

I learned a lot from that email conversation. 1) It is ok to defend the gradeless mindset. It’s ok to stick to your guns and defend what your heart says is right and true. 2) Parents appreciate clarity. Often when they are asking for the letter grade it’s because they have only ever spoken letter grade. They don’t understand the assessment language. Maybe I already explained it before. Try explaining it again. Parents want what’s best for their kids. All of them. They deserve to be treated with respect and that means taking the time to help them understand something that feels foreign to them. 3) Parents and students appreciate the rationale behind the gradeless shift. It’s about learning. #mygrowthmindset

*Name changed for anonymity.

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