Sunday, December 19, 2010

What is the Role of Report Cards?

When report cards are sent home I always wonder what the reactions will be at the different homes. What conversations will they have? How much money will be given based on the grades, or how much will be offered if they improve? How many comparisons to siblings' or friends' report cards will be made? How long the students will be grounded or what will be their consequences for a substandard report card in their parents' eyes?  There are so many external pressures on our students that it has made me rethink report cards and what their purpose is and whether or not letter grades serve a purpose at the Elementary level.

In my district we are starting the conversation about the purpose of letter grades, are there better ways to report the information and what changes can be made to report cards to alleviate some of the pressure on our younger students.  What essential elements must be maintained in an elementary report card?  What information needs to be in there, and how can it best be conveyed?

I feel that grade 4-7 is a transition time between the parent being the one primarily responsible for taking ownership over the student's learning to the student taking full ownership.  The students need to develop critical thinking skills in order to be able to take on that responsibility.  Parent support is always hugely important, but if the child does not know how/where to make changes in their work, then the capacity for improvement diminishes.  Every child has skills that they need to develop further letter grades can distract them and their parents from what needs to be focussed on.  I am also not convinced that 9 year olds are necessarily mature enough to understand what these letter grades mean, and if they are to have meaningful dialogue with their parents, they need to understand.

Here are what I believe to be some essential elements that need to be in a report card:
  1. What are the student's strengths?  Every student has amazing talents and we need to find ways to celebrate them whether they fall in Mathematics, Athletics, Language Arts or Fine Arts.  Every student should have experienced some triumph in that reporting period. There needs to be something celebrated for every student.
  2. What are some learning goals that the students can work on at school and that the parents can support them with at home?  Parents want to be involved, but unfortunately there are too many who are unsure of what to work on or how to help.  If it appears to be too general then they become overwhelmed and feel helpless.  Focussing on a few goals makes it tangible for the students and for the parents to see how they can progress. This is the same for students who are excelling and for those who are struggling.
  3. Where have they progressed?  What are some areas or improvement that need to be celebrated?  This should be tied into the learning goals.  If there were learning goals that were put into the last report card, has the child met them, are they progressing with them?  Is this an area that requires even more attention than originally thought?
  4. How is the child doing developmentally?  Is the student meeting the expected learning outcomes for their age?  I believe for the most part the parents want to know that their child is doing OK, not where they might be ranked.
  5. Conveying to the parents that you know their child.  If the parent feels as though the child that is described in the report card is not their's, then the rest of the report card becomes moot.   What can you put into the report card that show you know the child, what can you comment on, what personality aspect can you describe?  There is always the possibility that the child behaves differently at home, or that you and the parents see things in a different light, but for the most part they should be reading it and thinking "He/She really knows/gets my kid".
Does there need to be any more information than this?  The report card becomes more individualized, the learning becomes more focussed and the dialogue between home and school becomes easier.  If parents know how and where they can help their children then the dialogue about assignments that come home is richer and more purposeful, the dialogue between the teacher and the parents is richer and more purposeful and the dialogue between the teacher and the student becomes richer and more purposeful.  At the end of the day, is that not what a report card should be doing?   I am not convinced that our current report cards do that.

Now, what should the report card look like? hmmm

1 comment:

  1. Amen, Remi. I like how you've put our conversation into written word. Make sure you bring this to our meeting. I'll be doing some reading over the break!