Teachers left in dark about grade changes

  • Unconvinced by workshops: Mike Charles

Public schoolteachers were left in the dark about changes to the way pupils’ performance will be graded, a union leader said yesterday.

Mike Charles, general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, said that immediate training was needed to bring the profession up to speed on the new rules.

Mr Charles warned: “Otherwise we could have no reporting of grades because it’s a different way of grading students. Completely different.

“We have to know what we’re doing and, right now, teachers are really concerned.”

Mr Charles was speaking after the introduction of a standards-based grading system last month.

He said that teachers had been given “little-to-no preparation” for the new system.

Mr Charles said the Ministry of Education and Workforce Development had “dropped the ball”. He added: “There’s no two ways about it. What they are attempting to do now to get teachers ready should have been done last year.

“The horse is already out the barn and now they are trying to reign it in. This one was definitely not done properly.”

Cole Simons, the shadow minister, backed Mr Charles and said that the introduction of the new grading system was premature.

He added: “Like other new systems rolled out by the Department of Education, this plan was not complete and all of the system’s protocols were not in place.

“Teachers were not prepared. The data in the schools’ computer systems was not accurate or complete.”

Kalmar Richards, then Acting Commissioner of Education, sent a letter to parents in June to explain the change.

She said the new grading system ensured “that all students, no matter which school they attend, are taught the same standards and learning objectives”.

She added that “grades are assigned for the standards and learning objectives using the same procedures and scoring criteria”.

Ms Richards told parents the new system “makes sure that children are all taught the same subject matter across all schools, and the value and meaning of a particular grade is also the same across all schools”.

Scores of 0 to 4 are given to pupils for assignments and assessments under the new system, designed to replace the former percentage or letter grades.

The letter said a score of four showed advanced understanding exceeding grade level and a zero indicated no evidence or insufficient evidence of learning.

Eight report cards a year will be provided to parents under the new rules.

Mr Charles said that there had been “an attempt” at teacher workshops on the new system during the summer.

However, he added: “The people who were trying to give the workshops didn’t seem to know much about what they were talking about.”

He said that teachers were also sent written materials.

Mr Charles added: “But that’s not enough.”

Mr Simons agreed that teachers were not properly prepared during the summer break.

He added: “Instead, just last week, a survey was launched among teachers to assess their readiness.

“In addition, our Commissioner of Education just held a meeting for people to be trained to raise their awareness skills and to move the programme forward.”

Mr Simons said that he had been told that pupils were being promoted to the next grade levels in maths and English despite being unprepared.

He added that senior maths and English administrative posts in the education ministry were still vacant.

Mr Charles said that the positions had been unfilled “for quite a while”.

He added: “The ministry is dysfunctional. They advertise a position like that and then they tell you it’s only for six months.”

Mr Charles questioned why a teacher would leave a permanent job for a six-month contract.

Mr Simons said that overseas experts should have been recruited if the positions could not be filled on island.

He added that Diallo Rabain, the education minister, should “roll up his sleeves and get more involved”.

Mr Simons also questioned earlier pledges made by Mr Rabain that a “comprehensive plan” for improvements in maths and English instruction was in preparation.

He asked: “What has happened? Why has he dropped the ball?”

Mr Rabain said that problems with the implementation of standards-based grading and unfilled education posts existed while Mr Simons was the minister.

Mr Rabain added: “The marked difference is that this government is tackling the issues ignored for years by four ministers of education during the One Bermuda Alliance tenure.

“We will not allow hollow statements from the shadow minister — about issues he did not sufficiently address when he was the minister — to deter or distract us from moving ahead with our plans to ensure the best possible education experience for our students.”