“Ian has the ability to be a great student when he puts his mind to it.
He must learn to concentrate in class.
He must learn his multiplication tables.
He must learn to get along with his classmates.
Has the ability to write good compositions.
Writing is neat.
A more serious attitude towards school would be beneficial to Ian.”
- Term 1 Progress Report for Ian Fero, Grade Four, Mr. Seki
On report card weekend for many students I thought it would be a great idea to pull out some of my old report cards and take a look at a few of them. I was hoping that I would find some pretty good content for this blog post and I was able to find this fine example from grade four.
There has been a lot of discussion about progress reporting to parents over the last number of years, particularly after the Calgary Board of Education went to a 4-point reporting scale for K-9 schools. I realize that some parents might be looking for some insider tips into what their child’s report card really means. So, here are some simple tips to understanding your child’s report card:
Moving to a twice-a-year reporting process makes “no surprises” even more essential. What this means to me is that a parent shouldn’t have to wait until a January or June report card to gain an understating of how their child is achieving in their current grade. Teachers are asked to engage in regular communication with home (email, phone, or face-to-face) to identify any potential struggles just so you are informed in a timely manner, on what’s exactly happening at school.
We Celebrate Student Strengths
Every student, no matter where they’re at this particular moment in time, has achievements worth celebrating. Knowing and identifying which areas a student is most successful in is a key part of the reporting process. We want you to know what those things are, and hope that you know we respect your child for the talents and gifts that they bring to school. One of the constant comments from parents that I heard in my early days of school administration was “all I hear is the negative from the school”. If this is true, then this is a problem, so we always begin by acknowledging the positive things. We care for your child and want them to be successful.
Construct a Plan
What I have always tried to do is ensure a plan for improved success is communicated in the report card. One of the things I have always rejected is the comment implying that achievement is a matter of an enhanced effort at home (ex. “Ian would benefit from practicing his multiplication tables at home”). While a partnership between school and home is essential for student success, it is not ok to put this burden entirely on the home front. As a school, we want to examine our organization of supports, beginning at the classroom level, to ensure we are doing all that we can to improve student learning at school. If we want students to be successful at school, then we need to help them at school with support from home.
Indicators, which in our reporting system are a 1-4 scale, are the numeric attempt to summarize a semester’s worth of achievement. Trying to do this in one number means that a teacher needs to take all of the data accumulated over time. The student story toward that indicator is so much more than just a number. The comments are where the teachers spend most of their time when constructing the report card. As mentioned, we want these comments to be strength-based, but we also try and identify areas for growth, and of course a plan. The time, care, and attention that go into your child’s report card comments are significant and should be viewed as the most important part of the report.
Know the Language
There are a couple consistent messages that occur in almost every report card and provide a deeper understanding into your child’s progress if you know what to look for. These key phrases are “independently” and “with support”. When we use the word independently, it most often means that a student can understand, demonstrate, and maybe even extend, concepts taught. This represents ideal student achievement. Conversely, students who complete the same tasks with support indicate that, at this time, they require assistance engaging with those particular concepts. Support can encompass extra time, repeated instructions, modified expectations; one-on-one or small group time with a teacher or an Educational Assistant, or the help of manipulative or assistive technology. Another word that matters in report card comments is "consistently." Ideally, students are able to replicate successes consistently across the curriculum, and from concept to concept.
Mom: “Teacher, how does my child rank in the class?”
Teacher: “Through my assessment, I rank your child in the top three in my class.”
Mom: “Wow, that’s great. I am very happy to hear that.”
Teacher: “Well, I wouldn’t say that. This is the lowest class of achievers I’ve had in years.”
You may have seen this quick anecdote as it’s widely circulated in various forms. The key point is that there are too many variables in play when looking to compare your child’s achievement to that of their peers. Keep your parental focus on your own child and where they are at this time. Report cards are not standardized assessments, and therefore cannot be used for student-to-student comparison across classes, schools, or districts.
Possibilities are Endless
The report card is a snapshot in time. Perceived excellent achievement does not open doors for your child, just as perceived poor achievement does not close them. Todd Rose, Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor, tells his story in his book The End of Average and in his TED Talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eBmyttcfU4. While interesting, his story is not unique. He talks about finding his passion and calling much later in life, and working in dead-end jobs before he discovered his path. He also states that every person has specific strengths and talents, and a jagged profile meaning no two learners are exactly the same. What does matter is that your child needs your support and encouragement, as well as that of thier teacher, to be successful.
Based on the report card comments I received in term 1 of Grade Four you could probably surmise that I was in for a rough ride that year. I remember my mom and dad coming home from parent-teacher conferences and thinking I was done for. While I can’t say my parents were thrilled with my report card and follow-up conference, they did say that my teacher really liked me and wanted me to do my best. He moved my desk and told my parents that he was going to “work with me” to realize my potential. My dad also told the teacher that if he had any more problems with me that he wanted to know right away, and made it clear to me that he’d be following it up with a pretty direct conversation with me (children of the 80s can read into what a “direct conversation” with dad really meant). After all of that impact, here are my year-end report comments:
“I am very impressed with the work Ian has put forth on his book reviews.
Keep up the good work Ian.
Ian is a very nice boy who participates well in all activities.
Behaviour has improved.
Good luck in the future.”
Thanks Mr. Seki, Mom, and Dad. It was onward and upward from there…for the most part.
I am an elementary school principal, passionate about engagement, innovation, and learning from the unique skills and interests of students and fellow educators.