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Teachers ‘stressed’ by new grading system

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Union leader: Mike Charles

A botched attempt to introduce a new grading standard for schools has added extra stress to already under-pressure teachers, a union leader said yesterday.

Mike Charles, general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, added that the work involved in changing the system distracted the profession from its main role of teaching pupils.

Mr Charles said that teachers “widely supported” standards-based grading and that problems with its introduction had caused “a lot of anxiety”.

He explained: “They recognised that they were not prepared to meet the revised expectations and, in fact, the expectations themselves were a moving target.

“Unfortunately, these situations create distractions from the work of serving students and add tension to what is already a very high-stress environment.”

Mr Charles was speaking after Diallo Rabain, the education minister, announced this week that use of the new standards-based grading system was to be suspended.

Mr Rabain admitted that teacher training for the new standards-based grading model “wasn’t as good as it should have been” but that measures had been taken to improve teacher preparation.

He said: “We are not looking to have any grading come out until December.”

Mr Rabain said that the proposal for standards-based grading “was something that came into effect three years ago” under Wayne Scott, then minister of education for the One Bermuda Alliance.

He added that teacher training for the system started under Mr Scott and continued under his successor, Cole Simons.

Mr Rabain said meetings had been held with the teaching union on the training programme for the new grading system as far back as May.

He added: “When it came September, we realised we still had a little bit more work to do.”

Mr Charles said that teachers’ concerns about the new system were sparked by “the challenges that are real on the ground”.

He explained: “We recognise that sometimes the public, and perhaps even the Ministry of Education, think our concerns are just noise.

“Perhaps some think that we aren’t willing to do the work.”

Mr Charles said that teachers were in fact “being proactive and sounding the alarm”.

He added: “There is much work to be done.

“We are ready to work, but we also need the right support.”

Mr Charles said that the union had “advocated strongly” for a delay in the introduction of the new reporting standards.

He added: “While we have yet to learn of a revised plan, we are glad that the Ministry of Education has acknowledged the significant challenges and hope that a more effective implementation plan will be forthcoming.”

Mr Charles said a steering committee made up of teachers had been established to help boost training in the new system.

He added that he had “heard talk” of teachers who had already been trained in the new system helping to train other teachers.

However, he said: “To my knowledge, nothing substantial has been accomplished.”

The new grading system was introduced in September.

Kalmar Richards, then Acting Commissioner of Education, said in a letter sent to parents in June that the new evaluation system ensured “that all students, no matter which school they attend, are taught the same standards and learning objectives”.

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.

A total of eight report cards a year were to be provided to parents under the new rules.

Minister of Education Diallo Rabain (Photograph by Akil Simmons)