It shouldn’t be about the NUMBER

Although it seems a little redundant to say, I will still say it. There are tones and tones of numbers in education. Aside from the obvious, Numeracy, many aspects and elements of a school are based on numbers. How many students are with in a school, the number of school days in the calendar, what the budget looks like throughout the year, student identification number, even down to how many cases of pencils will be needed to get through the year. It is easy to say that a significant amount of time, with respect to my job, is looking at and working with the numbers. This directs the conversation towards the reason for this post.

Next year my school will join the remainder of my school division in the format used for reporting students achievements, accomplishments and struggles. So, what this means in simplicity is that students report cards will not have letter grades or percentages listed on them, remembering my school is a K-9 school. The high schools in our division will still be using percentages to coordinate with the requirements of the post secondary institutes within Alberta.

As my teachers have been going through the learning process, preparing for the transition to the new division reporting format, I have been developing ideas, presentations and gathering information for parents who I will be meeting with on multiple occasions over the next few months. I will be meeting with parents to walk them through the process and change. While I have been preparing my thoughts and presentations, I have taken opportunities to inquire with parents both in my school’s community and in other communities about their feelings about the transition.

Although there are many concerns, stipulations and arguments as to why the traditional format should remain, during this post I am only going to focus on the need to have a percentage. The most common comment I have heard about the need for percentages it that it tells parents where the students are in the class, where they are in relation to their peers and how much they are learning.

In reality however, a percentage tells you pretty much nothing with accuracy. The reason I say this is that percentages, much like statistics, can be manipulated. Below I have two pictures, for example purposes that show two completely different percentages for grade 8 science. However if you look carefully the raw score achievements are identical. The difference is the weighting for the individual assessment sections such as assignments, quizzes, exams etc.

As you can clearly see there is a 19% difference between the two scores.  What does this mean. Well, according to this, nothing. This is just one of the reasons I am a strong believer in the new reporting process. The new process describes how a student is doing with respect to the skills, attributes and process that are involved in each subject. Basically the new reporting process tells you what a student can do without assistance, what a student can do with help and what a student can not do. In addition there are comments and strategies.

A simple percentage does not do this. When we go to the doctor we wouldn’t accept that we are functioning at a 75% health level, we would ask for clarification. If we took our vehicle in for maintainance and the mechanic said the car is at a 80%, we would ask for clarification. If your boss said you preformed your job at 78%, you would ask for more detail.  Why is it  then so easy to accept that a child has 75% in Language Arts.  Students are individuals with different skills, abilities and talents, so let’s comment on what they can do, are learning to do and need help with rather than just making them a number.

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