The Challenges of Communicating Student Learning

One of the challenges in the public education system is navigating the best way to inform students and parents of progress with respect to student learning. Educators at times are guilty of interfacing with the parent community in edu-speak and thereby confusing the parent in terms of student progress. What exactly does ‘learning outcomes met’ even mean? Does the comment apply whether a student has demonstrated a minimal or exceptional level of understanding? Despite ample research that does not support the use of percentages as a means to improve student learning, they remain a symbol that most parents can at least understand. As a result, many school districts have pilot projects underway to try and improve the communication of student learning to be more understandable for students and parents to determine where a student is at with respect to learning outcomes.

One of the pilot projects the Langley School District is implementing with respect to this process is student led conferences. The intention is for the teacher to work alongside the student to present their learning to the parent(s) and also to develop a plan for further improvement in areas identified during this presentation. The student takes ownership for the process and thus also their learning. The student can also demonstrate with their portfolio clear evidence of their progress to date. This format is certainly more time consuming for the teacher as these interviews take approximately thirty minutes each and have to be spread over a longer period of time than two afternoons and an evening, but I believe will also be more impactful for the student and parent.  I look forward to hearing how this pilot progresses.

While student led conferences may be more practical at the elementary and middle years level, this should not absolve the secondary system from also re-examining its practices. Should secondary schools simply serve as a sorting mechanism for post-secondary? Should a four to six-point scale replace traditional letter grades and percents? Will parents simply convert the scales over to a letter grade format? How does one measure the provincial core competencies? How can students start to value formative feedback as much as the summative grade? Plenty of questions prevail that educators wrestle with, in terms of assessment and communicating student learning. I appreciate the work on the Capstone projects that enable students to showcase their learning in areas they are passionate about. These rich conversations are far more informative than anything that can be provided in a report card format.

I look forward to Langley’s ongoing journey with respect to assessment and the communication of student learning. I hope one day we can have a platform that will inspire, inform, and engage all students and parents more fully in this process.

Gord Stewart