The end of the school year means teachers tying up loose ends and, for most of us, sitting down to write reports.  I just finished mine yesterday (hence the time for sitting down to write this blog post), and I remain convinced that most school reports are at best uninformative and at worst a waste of time.

So why do we still bother?

PARENT perspective:

  • “I want to know how my child is doing” …  Ok.  But does having an A, B, C, or 1, 2, 3 on a piece of paper demonstrate anything aside from having “passed” the class/course/section?  What about ‘approaching, meeting, or exceeding standard.’  As a parent do you know what ‘standard’ we are referring to?
  • “But I need a document to show the new school we are moving to” … True.  Point taken.  But what information is the school report really giving the new school, especially since teacher’s have to usually fill out a Confidential School Recommendation letter where we can freely say what we presumably wouldn’t write down on a report anyway?!  Is the report then really just a piece of paper veiled as data to be used as a screening tool?
  • “It’s a cultural thing, we have always had report cards, sort of like a rite of passage” … Ok.  But were there any that you found truly useful and informative?

SCHOOL perspective:

  • “We need documentation” … For whom?  The next school the student might be moving to?
  • “We need to  evaluate the effectiveness of our instructional programs” … Ok, but I am sure there are more effective data points out there that could serve the same purpose and are more standardized (think MAP testing for literacy and math).
  • “We need to communicate information about students’ achievement to parents” …. Are most report cards really informative?  What defines achievement?  Or for that matter, not achieving, or over-achieving?  What does a Grade 5 student who is achieving in math look like?  What are they able to do?

TEACHER perspective:

  • “Because we have always done it” … Hmmm.
  • “Because I’ll get in trouble if I don’t” … Fair point.  Being unemployed as the alternative is a powerful motivator I suppose.
  • “Because I believe that reports really encompass all of a student’s learning journey throughout the school year” …  Said no teacher ever.

What I believe is that:

  1. A portfolio of student work (whatever form this takes) is a more meaningful tool to showcases a student’s growth and learning throughout the year, as well as providing a more authentic opportunity for reflection.  Click here for a link to my previous post on ePortoflios.
  2. A report in narrative format is a powerful source of information.  This does come with the caveat of being more labor intensive for the teacher, but also allows teachers the freedom to report on a student in a more authentic manner.
  3. If using “check-the-box” or “pick-a-grade/scale” type then have a frame of reference (or developmental indicators) that give parents an idea behind of the “norm” or grade level expectation.
  4. Parent-Teacher conferences and Student-Led conferences are essential.  Irrespective of what any paper report says, parents want to hear from their child’s teacher to know that everything is alright.

At the end of the day, the secret sauce behind report cards, what really matters most, is that every teacher contributing to a set of report cards should understand the purpose of the report cards.  At the same time, every person reading a report card should understand the purpose of that report card.  It’s all about form and function, or rather function and form.  Specifically, the function of our reports (the why behind them) should dictate what form they take (narrative, continuum, list of grades, etc).  Can we explain why are we doing what it is that we are doing?  Happy writing to those still finishing up their reports this school year, and for those that are already done, perhaps a little food for thought.

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