The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Who is that report card for?

Our first quarter recently ended. In reviewing some report cards, I began to wonder who these documents are most meaningful for. What does an “A” in the column next to math mean to a parent? Does it give information about the skills a child gained during the first term? Indicate a mastery of content? Or, is that “A” a statement about conformity, stating that a student brought a pencil each day?

I’m proud of the work our teaching staff does. When I see that “A,” I know it is a statement on how that child mastered their curriculum for the term, which is documented and hanging on the back wall in my office. However, am I really the target audience for this document?

Report cards are an area where our profession must grow. Ideas such as standards based report cards, or grades based on growth are a strong step in the right direction. However, we must be honest with ourselves as a profession and agree to two fundamental points. First, grades are a deeply personal topic with teachers, so we must build strong relationships and trust among staff members before we can even begin to talk about report cards. Second, while report cards are important data points for us as educators, the real value is sharing with parents how their child is doing, in a readable format that makes sense to adults who did not go to college to study education. Once we can overcome these first two hurdles, we can then begin to develop documents that we can distribute periodically to update how students are progressing.

Ask many in our profession about their biggest frustration and many will respond with “standardized tests.” I’d imagine that the 5 days we administer state tests are seen by many on our staff as the least productive days of our school year. Would these standardized tests exist if the public had clear information about how children were performing on specific skills? As educators, we know that standardized scores, while famous, are only one data point. How do we go about sharing this information?

Parents have a right to know how their child is progressing, and tax payers who support public schools should have an idea on how kids are doing in classrooms. Perhaps if we could develop meaningful report cards, it would give us readable data not only for individual children, but also for cohort groups of students.

Let’s build trust, then open up and have the professional conversation, it’s long overdue.

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6 thoughts on “Who is that report card for?

  1. Often times our highest performers on state tests are receiving very low grades in their classes. We have had parents in the past question this, about our grading. To be honest we don’t have an answer to that, which is why change is needed.

  2. Agreed! Our recent discussion involved grading but report cards is the natural extension! I’m not one for change for the sake of change but this is a practice that’s been in place for generations and it hasn’t changed! I think we have an obligation to review this process. Mike’s comment is right on – we don’t have an answer for what we do other than we’ve always done it this way!! Great observation Mr Bernia!

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  4. Dwight Carter on said:

    This is spot on. The debate about grades has been going on for decades and the “personal” component of grades has made it difficult for us to change the system of grading.

    I have attempted to discuss this with my staff and it’s been an interesting. The range of emotion has gone from relief to sheer anger. Some of the questions I asked are:
    1. Should grades reflect a student’s academic performance, behavior, or both?
    2. Is an “A” in teacher x’s Algebra class the same as an “A” on teacher’s y’s Algebra class? Should it be?
    3. Should a student receive a 0 for on assignments not turned in on time or nor turned in at all?
    Good luck as you discuss this with your staff. It’s a conversation worth having.

    • Hi Dwight,

      Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate hearing about your journey and suspect mine will be similar with a mix of relief and anger. If you don’t mind my asking, did you make any progress in creating some meaningful change?

      I see grading as the next wall to “break down” as we move teaching into a more collaborative profession. I think we’ve done a nice job of opening some classroom doors and starting to share some instructional strategies, but how we assess learning is still lagging behind. It really is a conversation worth having.

      Let’s keep in touch on the challenges and successes we face in this effort to reform the profession.

      All the best,
      John

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