By MINDY STANLEY
What? No grades? But my child is a straight A student! How will I know her progress?
As classical educators, these are the questions we’ve had to work through over the past several months as we’ve moved from a modern, progressive grading system to the more traditional narrative assessment.
If you were to look up narrative grading online, you may find a Wikipedia page describing it as, “a form of performance measurement and feedback which can be used as an alternative or supplement to grading. Narrative evaluations generally consist of several paragraphs of written text about a student’s individual performance and course study.”
In the Lower School at Covenant, we have elected to use this narrative grading system which matches the Wikipedia definition above, while also meaning so much more.
What is different from the Wikipedia definition is our emphasis on recognizing and cultivating virtues in our students as we teach rigorous curriculum and carefully evaluate their progress.
With that being said, every grade level has clearly defined skill sets lifted straight from our quarterly curriculum objectives. We’ve used various methods, according to personal preferences of each teacher, to document the progress towards a mastery of each skill.
In the past, these same objectives have been evaluated numerically—meaning students were assessed with a 100 or an 87 or even a 72, translating to a letter grade of an A, B or C.
What did you learn about the student’s progress from those numbers? Probably not much, even if the grades were all perfect 100s. The student may have memorized the spelling words for a test, but the next day were incapable of spelling them in a sentence or paragraph. We want the child to possess the objectives and concepts for deeper mastery and integration.
With classical grading system, you will be able to clearly see a child’s progress regarding a particular skill. Along with a mark for Exceptional, Meritorious, or Not Sufficient, there will be explanations and comments concerning the students’ own competencies regarding “The Art of Words” and “The Art of Numbers”. This will provide a much more holistic report for you to understand your child’s progress and individual skill sets.
As a long-time teacher who has put everything from A to Z on report cards for the last 44 years, narrative grading is a welcomed challenge for me. With qualitative documentation, more frequent opportunities to work with individual students, and the reduced pressure of completing all the worksheets in the curriculum, I now have a deeper understanding of my students’ strengths and weaknesses in a way I have not in years past.
It is rewarding to compile the successes and challenges of their work in a narrative form of evaluation, stories of both struggle and triumph.
One of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes is this:
“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil”.
Don’t just fill your head with information to be recalled on a test, but take the knowledge to heart, using it for the building up of the Kingdom.
I know in my classroom I have become more intentional in pointing out virtues of individual students, encouraging them when they are creative, imaginative, attentive, orderly, kind, courageous and teachable. As these virtues are cultivated in the classroom, lessons learned and knowledge acquired simply cannot be confined by a number.
Let me tell you a story about your child and how he is developing a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge outside the parameters of a grading scale. Our hope is that after reading these stories, you can say, “My child has a head full of knowledge and experiences to go with his full heart for the kingdom of God.”