The purpose of report cards
Communication about a student's development between schools and parents is essential. This is why we have report cards. Tracking student ability against a set of common developmental standards is equally important. The reality is that many report cards, particularly A-E grading styles, fall short of meeting their objective for a couple of reasons. The first is misconceptions about what those letters mean. Parents often base their understanding on their own school experience. Anything less than an A is not good enough.
In the Australian curriculum, the achievement standard is a C level, so getting a C means they are meeting the expectation. In my experience, this is not always an easy feat - it's an ambitious curriculum. The second hurdle is the educational jargon used in reporting descriptors. Often pulled straight from the curriculum content descriptor, which educators themselves struggle to apprehend at times, these words are often like another language to parents.
Could badges be the answer?
The question running through my mind is if there is actually a need to be ranking how well students are achieving something with a grade that can be highly subjective and carries understanding of a bygone era in education. Or should we instead be acknowledging each step forward as an achievement and as part of a continuous learning journey. Would a parent like to be told that little Sally can count in two to twenty or told Sally achieved a C in Number Concepts for the school semester? Similarly, would it even be that meaningful if a parent was told that Sally got a C in counting in two to twenty? What does she have to do to get a B? Stand on her head while doing it?
While there are some skills and knowledge sets that lend themselves to a black and white achievement, I can see an argument that this approach creates a finish line or would not allow for more complex application of skills. Instead, if you look at it more like a stepping stone leading to the next achievement, the potential for open ended achievement could be almost limitless.
Badges are nothing new
Recognising achievement with badges is not a new concept. Scouts, military and police utilise them. The concept of "leveling up" is not one wasted on anyone born from the 80's onwards. It's motivating. Imagine being a student getting awarded for what you can do instead of being told you cant do something well enough to get a certain grade. Imagine seeing the list of things you can do grow and grow, instead of lurching through your school years always feeling like you're not good enough. Naturally this may not be felt by those at the top of the academic ladder, but imagine the impact it could have on the lower or even mid-range achievers!
Minus the subjectivity
No matter how well your rubrics are generated or how consistent your moderation process is, there is always going to be a level of subjectivity in grading achievement. The good news in breaking down standards to mico-credentials can make it more black and white - you either got it, or you don't.....yet! The concept of not having something yet is popular among Growth Mindset advocates and Carol Dweck, leading researcher in the field of motivation and how to foster success. If badges were designed in a linear way, traversing grades, students wouldn't have just a year to achieve a badge, but could have continuous opportunities to achieve them. Similarly, students working beyond the achievement standard could be earning future badges.
Time saving and continuous
The need to report at certain times of the year dictates the timing of assessment, regardless of whether the students are actually ready for it. Most teachers will agree that generating assessment items, marking and collating data for reports takes weeks of a school term. Would this not be better used for learning? In a system where badges can be awarded as students demonstrate knowledge or skills, time spent conducting formal assessment could be given back to learning. A report could be generated at any time by producing a list of the student achieved credentials to date.
Our present reporting structures make it very difficult to report on the skills that are considered valuable to 21st Century learners. How do we put a grade against innovation? Creativity? Collaboration? Critical thinking? Instead, teachers could award a badge when they see evidence of it. An accumulation of badges could result in gold, silver or bronze badges in these areas. The potential in this space is exciting. Consider the other non-curriculum skills that could be awarded badges. Parents would be pleased to know when their child receives a badge in citizenship, resilience or self-regulation.
Our hands are tied...
Unfortunately, me getting up on my soapbox is not going to then cause a lot of schools to look at report cards and start reporting on student achievement using micro-credentials and badges. In Australia, our hands are tied. The National Education Agreement states that we must report against a five point scale.
Despite this roadblock, teachers can still try out badges in the classroom. Many LMS platforms allow teachers to generate and award their own badges. Making them specific to curriculum objectives may help students connect with their learning and see the road ahead.
Read all about my thoughts on teaching in the 21st Century, my experiences with technology in the classroom, running a Maker Space, launching STEAM and Design Thinking with students, coding, robotics and much more!
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