The Surrey School District has extended a pilot program that marks a fundamental shift in how its elementary students are evaluated, abandoning traditional letter grades in favour of a system that it is calling constructive feedback.

Five elementary schools made the switch in the fall, with 34 other schools joining their ranks this month. The idea is that by offering more information on how students are doing on projects and tasks, and focusing less on the superficial “A, B or C” evaluation, both students and parents will have a better understanding of where they stand.

Antonio Vendramin, principal of George Vanier Elementary in Surrey, says he appreciates that letter grades make it easy for parents to track their children’s progress – “It's an A, I know my kid is doing well”— but thinks they limit how students and parents interact over education.

“It tends to kind of stop conversation about learning and it focuses more on what grade you got,” says Vendramin.

“So we're hoping that their removal steers people more to that descriptive feedback about their child's learning.”

'Most parents want better feedback and they want more of it and they want it in a timely manner. I think if we can deliver, it will be a win-win for parents and for kids.'- Antonio Vendramin

The new system helps parents and students better discuss strengths, weakness and where assistance is needed, using technology to relay that feedback to parents more often, sometimes as pictures or video, he says.

“Most parents want better feedback and they want more of it and they want it in a timely manner,” says Vendramin.

“I think if we can deliver, it will be a win-win for parents and for kids.”

The school district will evaluate the program this summer, then decide if the new system is worth making permanent for its 101 elementary and 19 secondary schools.

With files from the CBC's Chad Pawson