Report distribution is looming. In all my classes, teachers are assigning, marking, and submitting our grade into the elusive and magical system that is Markbook 2.93 at an impressive pace. Grade updates are printed out, complete with line graphs, weighting and percentage breakdowns, and median/average comparisons. As students, we are reminded of the volatility of our marks, and the insignificant impact they have on our well-being, both present and future.
Last week, my sister brought back an unofficial progress report by her third grade teacher. A single table, printed on bright, white paper, with letters corresponding to progress level and a few lines of commentary to the right. The teacher’s neat, clean signature, along with her contact information accompanied a space for parental comments and signature at the very bottom. Harmless – even friendly.
No conventional grades, yet my sister somehow managed to rank herself among her peers. Why she did so will probably remain a mystery. My parents never raised her to be so competitive; they always stressed efforts instead of results. Still, my sister came home that evening slightly disgruntled that a friend received two more “E”s than she did, and exclaimed she would ensure that her final grades would be better.
I was perplexed. As far as I could tell, the only difference between my sister’s report and her friend’s were the two “E”s. And I thought the Ministry’s new “no letter grades” policy was supposed to discourage competitively and lessen stress? Clearly, the new system of E’s G’s S’s and N’s wasn’t living up to its intentions.
Parents don’t seem to be getting it either. With the new system, they are provided with less information about their child’s performance at school. Instead of a precise letter grade directly corresponding to a precise range of numerical values, they are presented with one of one of four, very subjective-sounding categories that correspond to how well their child is doing.
Perhaps it’s a phenomenon isolated to my parents and their friends, but ever since the introduction of this new system, it seems as if guardians have put an increased weight on a teacher’s commentary on these reports. It’s as if mothers and fathers are scrambling to wring out every scrap of meaning from a few sentences, most of which, the teachers admit, are all copied from a template anyway.
Frankly, I find the Board’s approach to and attempt at curbing the hypercompetitivity of its students and their parents completely ineffective, and completely futile. This system, regardless of how it’s modified, manipulated, or reconfigured, will always allow students who want to rank themselves among their peers to do so. Regardless of numbers, letters, symbols, or encryption, we are seriously kidding ourselves if we think we can put a stop to hyper-competitiveness.