“Revising Report Cards” — #EdChat Summary: 01/24/12

Topic: What should a report card look like to provide information to parents?

Since I’m not a teacher and it’s been quite a while since I paid attention to my grades (by college I had stopped caring about grades and started focusing on what I was learning, understanding, and retaining), I didn’t think that I would get much out of this week’s #edchat. Then again, I am going to have a kid in school soon, and I can’t imagine not caring about his report cards when he brings them home.

I’m actually really looking forward to my step-son’s report cards when he starts kindergarten later on this year. As far as I can tell, that’s the age where we really have report cards nailed down. From what I hear, kindergarteners (and even first and second graders) don’t really get grades. They get stars, happy faces, and other little trophies for good behavior or for demonstrating that they’re learning in some way. It’s not really so much about achievement as it is about heart.

Of course, at some point kids need to grow up and learn that the world is about achievement (and many other things). But are we rushing it? Is it misleading to start giving kids A’s, B’s, and C’s while they’re still in elementary (and even middle) school? What does that actually accomplish?

There are tons of #edchat participants who are outspokenly “anti-test.” I think that’s reasonable. Anyone who reads anything about education in this country knows that most teachers (and parents, and students) are getting fed up with the amount of standardized tests we put our kids through – and with the importance we ascribe to them. But as it turns out, I’m not the only “wacko” out there wondering if we’re overdoing it with the grading too.

We heard from plenty of teachers this week who think that grades are simply not the best way to communicate with parents or the best means of summarizing a student’s abilities. And that’s really what report cards and grades are for, right? It’s not like they go anywhere else but home to be signed and off to college admission offices to be reviewed.

As with all good #edchat experiences, this one serves as only the beginning of a much larger discussion. As Tom Whitby pointed out to me, the best part of #edchat is what comes afterwards. Reforming report cards is yet another item we can add to the list when we finally get around to making real changes to our archaic educational system.

Main themes from the discussion:

  • How relevant are report cards, really? David Wees asked where they came from, and then later on pointed out that “back in the day” they used to be reports of how many biblical verses each student had memorized. Arguably, they’ve come a long way since then (and so have most average students), but are they really necessary? Couldn’t we replace them with something like an online portfolio or with weekly email updates on student progress? Personally, I think we could (or at least we could supplement them with these things), but it seemed like most teachers were hesitant to throw what may be the only fool-proof means of parental involvement out the window. At least, until every family has home internet.
  • We need them, but they need to change! Admitting that we need report cards, are they okay in their current format? The resounding answer to that is “NO!” Everyone had one quibble with them at least, and most had many. I can’t even begin to summarize all the complaints that were voiced, so I will remind you to look for the archive of this conversation when it goes online.
  • We need less of an emphasis on grades. This was one of the main points against report cards that nearly everyone agreed on. While there were a couple folks who stood by grades as a means of motivating and ranking students, many others were quick to point out how completely subjective grades are (an A in one district might be a C in another), and how they’re just as likely to demoralize a student as they are to motivate him. Still, asking all schools to do away with grades on report cards is not going to happen, especially because colleges use them as a major determining factor when selecting applicants.
  • We need more of an emphasis on personalized comments. If we’re stuck with grades, how can we make report cards useful? One of the biggest points I heard a lot of people making this week was that we need to get rid of standardized comments because they mean almost nothing. Of course, the corollary to this is that teachers need to provide much more individualized feedback for each student. This can get time-consuming, and as we all know teachers aren’t exactly made of free time as it is. I suggested that we should have teachers create audio reports on each student instead of taking the time to type something up. This would allow parents to get more feedback than they would normally get on a report card without being entirely too burdensome on the teacher. Others suggested reviving the lost art of the parent-teacher conference.
  • Report cards are only one way for teachers and parents to communicate. One final point that I feel needs to be emphasized (because I saw it come up more than once this week) is that report cards should not be the only time a teacher communicates with parents. It should never be a surprise when a parent opens up their child’s report card – especially if that student is struggling. Teachers need to remember to involve parents early and often, even though this can be one of the more difficult components of the job. But hey, nobody ever said teaching was easy, did they?

My favorite tweets from the discussion:

<> Good questions:

cybraryman1 I feel we have to start with what do parents want on a report card?

MertonTech How relevant is a quarterly report card when we have the ability to have access to a live report card via the internet?

davidwees Does anyone know when and where report cards first developed? What’s the history of the report card?

cybraryman1 Should grades be replaced by teacher comments & individualized assessment?

jheil65 Hasn’t the existing ed system made grades the endgame? Learning takes a back seat to grades and standardized tests.

<> Good answers:

TeachersNet Reports should be 1. frequent, 2. succinct, 3. report progress measured against past performance, and 4. show standing regarding grade level.

GTConsultant Parents in my districts don’t even look at report cards with the online grades they look at everyday!

davidwees ”The best report cards are the ones where the teacher speaks up. They’re personal. A grade – it just doesn’t say enough.” @John_Merrow

cheflincoln Report card should look like a Job Evaluation! Isn’t employability and not gamesmanship the goal?

MertonTech Portfolios of work. Students choose what they think is their best work.

<> Less grades, more comments:

jheil65 @mikevigilant My problem with grades is that there is no direct connection between grades and learning. . . Learning should be primary!

davidwees What the modern report card needs is not more numbers, but more meaningful information.

aaronmueller A modern report card should do away with canned comment codes. Online reporting can allow students to see “big picture feedback.”

VanessaSCassie Love the idea of a “work ethic” column on the report card.

Caplee62 Yep, my school had no grades. At first parents confused and then they loved it.

<> A few resources:

cybraryman1 My Parent-Teacher Communication page:http://t.co/zvwQ21nJ

delta_dc I like to use the analogy of a trip:http://t.co/QoHOBtZ3

davidwees ”What mattered in 1825 on your report card was how many lines of scripture you had memorized.”http://t.co/0C9yGqZY

cheflincoln Has anyone mentioned Shawn Cornally andhttp://t.co/Hisz9eDW his SBG gradebook? Worth a look!

To follow the complete discussion, look for the full archive here.  They’re usually posted up by the end of the week.

Looking to discuss #edtech in depth? Check out the LinkedIn group: Edutech Trends, Visions, Passions.

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One Response to “Revising Report Cards” — #EdChat Summary: 01/24/12
  1. Pingback: Recent #Edchat Discussions January and February « Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

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