America (and, increasingly the rest of the world) is currently obsessed with competition and external standards. As a result, many Montessori schools have modified Montessori by giving letter grades at the elementary level to be more reassuring to anxious parents. We recommend against this practice, although we acknowledge it is a fairly wide spread occurrence.
I am often asked by Montessori teachers and parents, ‘when do most schools start incorporating letter grades, if ever?’
Letter grades are comparative models of describing a child's development instead of description.
When teachers assign letter or numerical grades, they are evaluating children either against the other students in the same class, or against an arbitrary external standard and set of expectations. As Alfie Kohn and many others have long shown, this practice of encouraging children to work and compete for high grades originates from the expectations and fears of anxious parents, and commonly leads children to look to teachers for the right answers, instead of thinking and researching things for themselves. It encourages children to do what they must to earn the right grade. In many schools it leads to learning that is shallow; right answers memorized for a test, then quickly forgotten once the grades are announced.
In good Montessori practice, we describe children’s progress to their parents in terms of their individual development in many different areas. Obviously, many fine schools in great schools have created a highly intellectual culture using competition and high and demanding expectations. Montessori schools should avoid this, however, in favor of a culture of independently selected work, children exploring their interests, and children's empowerment
America is currently obsessed with competition and external standards. As a result, many Montessori schools have modified Montessori by giving letter grades at the elementary level to be more reassuring to anxious parents. We recommend against this practice, although we acknowledge it is a fairly wide spread occurrence.
Traditionally Montessori schools communicate with parents and future schools about children's progress through written narrative reports and portfolios of children's work, complemented by parent-teacher-student conferences during the school year. Giving children comparative letter or numerical grades violates the basic principle of good Montessori practice.
Montessori schools should avoid compromising their core values to make more parents happy. In the long run, no one wins. We should stand our ground and seek families who really want a Montessori education for their children. These issues should stand on their own merits. Some parents will understand and agree, others will not. It become part of a self-selecting process in admissions and retention.
Last Updated (Monday, 27 September 2010 12:58)