Communicating About “No Grades”

Last week, we invited parents in to explore what reporting looks like when there is no number, no grade. We have purposely avoided stand and deliver type community forums as we discuss the shift from traditional grading systems to a proficiency based system that doesn’t rely on grades. This was mostly an intuitive decision rather than one based on any research or advice from those who have come before us. This most recent event was the first time we really openly talked about how a “no grades” system would look for parents.

As parents came in we greeted them with literature and written directions about how to log on to our new reporting system. We set up computer stations in the library and had teachers available to walk parents through the registration process. Once they were in the reporting system, teachers shared the details of the system and showed them visuals of their child’s progress so far. We also provided food, of course.

The one to one conversations that were happening were very productive. This format gave parents an opportunity to ask questions, sometimes contentious, in a way that wasn’t scary or combative. In a community meeting, there are certain people who speak while others nod their heads in agreement. This format allowed everyone to ask questions, even hard ones, have a productive discussion, and get a clear response. There is a tendency in a larger forum for the discussion to take a specific direction and it is usually the direction of the loudest and sometimes least receptive person. In any case, it can be unpredictable and unproductive. The one to one format totally headed this possibility off from the get go. People are nervous about such a large change that has so little research behind it and they deserve to have some extra attention given to them for taking the risk.  

An unintended outcome of this model is that teachers were able to prepare and practice using the language and describing the process of proficiency based learning and progress tracking. Finally, I guess I want to reiterate that making big change, even crazy change can happen when there is trust and relationships involved. I am much more likely to do something that I am skeptical of if a close friend of mine, who I trust, asks me to do it than if a stranger asks me to do it. That is just common sense. I think that this needs to be a consideration in any change project where there are many unknowns or models to refer to. Relationships have got to be at the center of planning communication and marketing strategies. 

See for more information on the reporting system we are using as well as an overview in this video.

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