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What Parents Say About a Class Without Grades

If you haven't asked it aloud, you may be thinking about it.

Old school and open-minded, that's the way I hope all older people are. And now as I age, I try to hold myself to the same standard.

Recently, I've engaged in a dialogue with my father about education. He has taken an interest in my passion for leaving grades behind and has been asking a lot of questions as his beliefs about what I'm doing are not without reservation.

He was the first to outwardly ask the above question of me. I didn't even know he was reading my articles.

(Granted, his direct connection to education is now limited to me, his oldest child who is an educator, his experience as a parent of 2 children in the system many years ago and his own learning experience in the classroom even more years ago than that.)

That being said, I believe my father's concerns are those of many parents my dad's age and younger about this new shift in mindset I'm suggesting.

And it's a fair question to ask - so, it's time to address some concerns.

No grades classrooms seek to communicate more precisely. By speaking in terms of specific skills and helping students become more metacognitive about their processes, students are better able to talk about what they are learning and what they need help with.

Here are what parents in my school community are saying (either directly or through their children):

"My grandparents and my mom think its great since its based on standards, but they actually don't mind as long as I'm meeting the standards and progressing with my learning."
"My parents don't understand this change when I explain it to them. My mom's response was, "If your going to write about how you think your doing, aren't you going to be bias?" I'm thinking "Probably," but its not like what I'm reflecting on is the final say, and I need evidence from my work to prove where I think I'm at." - Jasmine Tejada, student
"I believe that students should be graded based on the material taught at a given point in time. The type of grading either numerical, letters, or based on standards is irrelevant as along as everyone understands their values. The student/parent should know that for example approaching standards means 75 and not 85 so that there are no surprises at the end".- Monica Giannakopoulos, parent.
"Both my parents think this is a really good idea and it'll definitely help students improve (not just me). Not having grades will give students an opportunity to finally do their work without having to worry about an A. I (Wendy) personally don't mind what my children get anyways. I just want them to learn and do their best and that's what really matters." - Jason Chen, student.
"No grades classroom is a really good idea because Alice now does her work without focusing so much on her grade. Although she is a pretty decent writer, she can further improve her writing because her teacher gives her helpful feedback." - Bosco Mung, parent.  "It's definitely new way to observe a child's learning; by not giving them grades I feel like at the end of the day you're showing them that their grades isn't what is most important, its about their development throughout the course and how they are meeting the standards they need to follow." - Wilson Montero, parent.  "As a parent of a student receiving standard based grades, I can appreciate how this system will help them become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Following the common core and its many standards can be an overwhelming task for any teacher. However, the student benefits because it gives a definitive explanation as to the areas needed for improvement in order to achieve an "exceeding standards" report. Teachers are also better prepared to form groups of individuals with the same needs". - Monica Korb, parent.

Other parents have expressed indifference, but with the disclaimer of "as long as I'm getting good grades." 

Given the varying feedback I've received, I'm forced to reflect on how I can better communicate the objectives with parents and students. The videos I've made don't seem to be enough, so perhaps a meeting or a town hall to address concerns needs to be planned.

Change is never easy and I'm not suggesting that it is. As we continue to try to make meaningful reform in education, we need to develop an on-going dialogue that changes the language we use to communicate learning.

What challenges are you most encountering understanding the shift in communicating learning?

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher Blog in November of 2014

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