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Grade Level and Academic Success

As I went to write this blog post and search for a catchy display cover image, something made me chuckle.


In the photo search, I typed in "education".


What came back looked like this:

If by and large this is what education looks like (at least on the Internet); why are we still living in the stone age at public school?


Despite the fact that times have changed more rapidly than we are used to, some things have not changed at all. As teachers, learners and society as whole public education has had the connotation of "education for all". Yet, we continue to squeeze (too many) students into grade levels and standardize their learning by ensuring that we are teaching for an end goal: The Report Card.


So imagine an 8 year old child who is, by the standards placed in Ontario, in Grade 3. Due to any number of reasons such as:

  1. Limited exposure to reading

  2. Low socio-economic status

  3. Learning disability

  4. Undiagnosed ADHD

  5. Disinterest

...this student is reading at a Grade 1 level.


Imagine that same student who, due to any number of reasons such as:


  1. High exposure to math based video games

  2. Interest

  3. Innate problem solving skills

  4. Engaging prior educators

...is completing math work at a Grade 5 level.


What grade is this student in?


What are we doing for our children when we are forcing them into a 1500 character box at the end of the term and basing their success off the four first letters of the alphabet?


I know, I know, it's more than that. I know that there are other fantastic ways to measure progress. This is what I do everyday. Conversations, observations and evaluations. We're asked to consider meeting students where they're at and create engaging lessons that cater to their learning needs. But when it comes time...in February and June...you must provide a letter grade and then explain months of fun, engagement, learning, inquiry, projects, assignments, enlightenment and growth into a small box with qualifiers about how effectively they demonstrated understanding.


I'd rather talk about how:


  • Suzie gained the confidence to advocate for herself when her classmates doubted her.

  • Johnny is beginning to understand how he learns and what type of environment allows him to focus on his work.

  • Ellis thought that they weren't good at math and had test-taking anxiety. This year, they flourished when they were able to show their understanding in other ways.

  • Nayla, who had never had access to a computer has developed a love for coding. She now has aspirations develop her own video game that demonstrates equity and diversity.

My point is, what works for Nayla is not necessarily what Johnny needs this year. But we must provide them both with the same content and grade them based on where they "should" be. Then they'll forever be bound by whether or not they were considered "good" at a subject or not.


What is academic success to you?

What do you consider as growth for a child who is learning?

What standards do you focus on when evaluating your child's progress?


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