Sunday, November 7, 2010

Grading the new report cards

Many parents across Ontario with kids in elementary schools have either already received or will soon receive the new fall 'progress' reports that replaced the traditional fall report cards that used to include a grade. The Globe and Mail touches on report-card reform in a general sense in this piece, the Toronto Sun and its sister papers included an actual scan of what the progress reports look like. Most other media out there also touched on it in the back end of this week.
When the switch was announced, it brought out the gamut of commentary on the move-- from those critiquing the government for giving into elementary teachers' federations who have long advocated for a no-grade report card in the fall, to those who don't care and those who see a report card that supposedly speaks to bigger-picture comments of progress rather than ranking as a positive.
The troops were out in full force again as the report cards started coming out this week.
I'm left asking myself whether what's on a report card matters as much as what a student and her/his parent(s) are going to do with the information. I realize some parents just want to see that A-grade mark (or C-grade, really, for some parents) and not really concern themselves far more with anything else. An edu-speak comment that just confuses (or perhaps provides useful information) isn't helpful to that parent.
However, as most schools schedule the first round of meet-the-teacher or parent-teacher interviews shortly after these fall reports, that's where my question of what parents do with this assessment information comes in. I would see myself as a parent (I'm not yet a parent) that would attend all of these regardless of the evaluation my child had received to ask the teacher questions about what was behind his/her assessment-- good or bad. It would be interesting to see if these new progress reports bring more parents in to ask teachers what the heck the comments really mean than would have come in under previous years' fall report cards.
At the same time, this could place even greater pressure on teachers and their federations, who've argued six (or eight) weeks isn't enough time to properly assess a child's progress. So now they're assessing and providing comments instead of grades-- which if the comments are at all meaningful may take just as long or longer than grading. Then, when/where parents inquire, it also puts those teachers in position where they need to explain what the comments mean and why they chose to make them. I hope for many teachers this won't be that difficult-- their federations and boards are telling us in the public teachers are always using multiple assessments.
Now that they've been given an opportunity to show the public one of these other forms of assessment, let's see how they do.