Investigating the Academic Policies of St. George’s School

Questions regarding changes in assessment and grading policies have been circulating in the classrooms of St. George’s recently. “Why is the new no-retest policy implemented?” “What’s the purpose of the linear grade book system?”

As Canada’s World School for Boys, St. George’s has always been regarded as one of the leaders in high-school education, both locally and nationally. St. George’s School has a rich history of leading the quality education race, which is reflected in the unwavering success of alumni. Yet, not much is known by students about the assessment policies and philosophies that guide their education, and the fact that grading methods have undergone major changes in recent years has only increased the lack of understanding as well as the confusion. To clear up the mystery and to help students understand the reasons behind these changes, The Creed conducted an investigation into the situation.

Academic Philosophy and Policy

The first part of the mystery is relatively easy to unravel because the backbone of our education, the assessment philosophies, have not changed. St. George’s School takes pride in their mission to “build fine young men, one boy at a time,” and to fulfill their mission, the school strives to provide specific and descriptive feedback to students so that they can grow and develop in their studies. Assessment and feedback on student work is one of the greatest factors in improving student performance and developing student understanding. Mr. Johnston, the school’s Learning Director, echoes this idea, saying that “the real purpose of our academic policy is one where we’re looking for students to be focused on feedback.” Mr. Johnston and the school administration have been working hard to “get students to focus on how they can improve and how they can grow” with the goal of students better understanding the material.

St. George’s School uses belief statements to guide their practices in assessment and grading. These beliefs include: assessing student learning based on their achievement of the learning outcomes, separating content and skill outcomes from other achievement factors such as effort and participation, using a variety of quality assessment opportunities for students to demonstrate individual achievement, allowing students to have input into the development of standards, and ensuring consistency of assessments and grading.

While these belief statements have not changed in recent years, the assessment policies that were once inspired by these beliefs have been adjusted to better reflect them.


The Change to a Linear Grading System

One adjustment that have been implemented is the linear grading system where there is now a running system opposed to having discrete terms. The language is complicated, but the concept is actually quite simple: one can think of it as having one long term instead of having three shorter terms where each term counts for one-third of the final grade.

The change to a linear grading system is an example of the school’s new focus to outcome oriented learning, and has many benefits. Mr. Johnston explained that “we’re interested in where the student is now, at this point of the year, and not how they did earlier in the year or the route that they took to get where they needed to.” To accomplish this, flexibility in the gradebook is crucial.

In the old gradebook system, students notice that there are more assessments that come out towards the end of term. As teachers often need a few more data-points to finish the term; there may also be a need to fit a certain assignment into the term it was planned for. The new linear grading system resolves this issue as the timings of assessments are not as stressed. It also provides more opportunities for students to show their knowledge, as well as for their grades to be reflected through more recent assessments.

Mr. Elliott, an English Teacher at St. George’s School, perceives the changes positively: “In the English Department, we’ve found that its provided us with data that allows us to get a sense of how students have learned, improved, grown throughout a term or a school year. I think it gives us data through which it can then inform students give them ideas as to how to improve their work. As a result, I’ve seen results in a number of my classes where students have shown growth and achieved higher marks more consistently later on in the school year.”

Late Marks Policy and the Change in Midterms

Another change in the assessment policies would be the new no late marks policy. Similar to most of the other changes, this new policy was a strategical shift to better match the assessment philosophies. According to Mr. Johnston, grades are supposed to reflect a student’s understanding of the learning outcomes, and often times that was impacted by factors such as late marks because they don’t reflect a student’s understanding; late marks reflect one’s organizational skills which are a different behaviour. Mr. Johnston clarifies that “we can still report of them because they’re still really important, but what they shouldn’t do is reflect how a student does in a particular class – unless those work habits lead to him not being able to demonstrate this understanding in that subject.”

Mid-term report cards have also gone through an adjustment, as it no longer displays a number grade for Grades 8, 9, and 10 students. This is a reasonable change due to its timing: Mid-term marks were generated in early October, which implies that students may have had ten classes with a few number of assessments. Therefore, it was hard to generate a percentage grade based on a limited number of data.

No Re-test Policy

The last and arguably the most controversial shift is the no-retest policy. While the idea of having “no re-tests” may sound frightening, it is for the betterment of the students. Mr. Johnston assured The Creed and the student body that when the no re-test policy is “stated like that, it feels more ominous than it is because it’s really about shifting an idea.” When a student feels the need to constantly re-do assignments, “that’s stressful; that’s a grind.” Once again, the no re-test policy is one way St. George’s School is trying to focus on having multiple opportunities for students to show their understanding. After all, at the end of a unit, there will be a number of learning outcomes and every student should have plenty of opportunities to present their knowledge. Mr. Johnston further explained the benefits of the new policy: “it allows the assessments along the way to be more informative. [They are] places where you can make mistakes and be less stressful about learning. They are also tools to guide students and teacher where the teacher needs to support the class and where the student needs to, on the individual basis, improve their skills so they can demonstrate that learning outcome even more.”

Grade 10 student and academic representative Sam Wooder weighed in his opinion on this change. He said that the changes “have not had a significant impact on me, either in terms of my experience or my final grade.” Sam then commented that “the new policies work well 95% of the time, but sometimes there is just a genuine problem with the assessment.”

The Creed found through this investigation that the changes in the academic policies are adjustments to better reflect the original academic philosophies; they are genuinely for the betterment of the students. Moving forward, it is important for teachers to adhere more closely to these policies to ensure that their intentions are clearly expressed.