Good grades

Inflated Grades?  Not so fast.

It is that time of year again when all across Ontario, high school teachers are preparing Learning Reports, and parent teacher interviews are being scheduled.  It is also the time of year when inevitably, talk around the water cooler eventually comes to the topic of inflated grades.  I have been a high school teacher for almost 30 years, and I am being asked more and more often if a 90% today means the same as a 90% when I first started teaching. I will honestly say that I don’t believe so, but I do think there are very good reasons for it.

First, what is meant by education has changed.  I had a student last year in my grade 12 chemistry course whose father I had also taught but in the OAC chemistry course. They asked me to settle an argument over which course was more difficult.  I told them that I thought the OAC course was more difficult because we covered more content in that course than the grade 12 course. While that is very true, I’m not sure it makes the current course easier, it just depends on your style of learning. Content is King, Bill Gates famously said in 1996 about putting information on the Internet. Now students carry around the content of the world in their pockets. Education has changed from filling our minds with information to learning how to use, apply and discern that content. The motto I have for my classes is  “I am Not Here to Teach You Chemistry, I am Here to Help You Learn Chemistry.”

Secondly, how we determine grades has changed. Some years ago, the Ministry of Education came out with a document entitled “Growing Success.” This document directed teachers to change their methods of determining grades for students, and in the process, the terms Assessment and Evaluation became separate things. Assessment refers to situations where the student’s work is not given a mark but instead, feedback is offered, and the student is given an opportunity to continue with the assignment to eventually master it. Instead of a one and done approach, we offer multiple chances to work through an assignment, with self-assessment, peer assessment and teacher assessment guiding the process. This approach allows for a greater number of students to master the learning goals of a lesson, unit or course. And did you noticed the name change? It is no longer called a report card, but a learning report, and for very good reasons.

Thirdly, how we collect information from students has changed. The Growing Success document also directed us to make room for broader methods of evaluation. While I fully believe that it is vitally important to be able to express oneself using the written word, it is equally important to be able to convey your knowledge via the spoken word or using some kind of visual media. When I was younger, if I wanted to learn how to do something I usually went to the library, took out a couple of books and read up on it. Where do we go for our information now?  If my son wants to install a new hard drive in his computer or my daughter wants to change out the radio in her car, their one and only stop is to watch YouTube videos of other people who have already done it and learn from them. They gather their information visually and aurally, so perhaps they should practice sharing their knowledge in the same way.

And lastly, I believe that there is now a much stronger competition to get into post-secondary fields, whatever they may be. This is leading many students to work harder, study longer and take their high school education more seriously than perhaps many of us did in the past.

In conclusion, are grades higher? Probably. Is it a bad thing? I don’t think so. Our students have more opportunities to master the content no matter their learning style. Schools are becoming less and less a place for one type of learner to excel and more of a place that allows all students to demonstrate their knowledge and interest in the topics at hand. Do we have a ways to go? Absolutely, but I believe we are headed in the right direction.

Leon HordykBy: Leon Hordyk
Educator, Hamilton District Christian High