Thank goodness, my report cards are done! All thirty of them, with their multitude of boxes to complete and their various test scores to enter. Then there are the STANDARDS. Math is not merely math. It’s not even number sense, geometry, and so on. It’s a long list of skills, each with it’s own value to be assigned. Oh for the good old days.
I remember seeing my mother’s report card as a child and thinking it was so small. There was hardly anything written on it. The subjects were listed along with the appropriate quarters. In the tiny boxes were numbers – 86, 94, 92, and so on. Those were mother’s grades. If she had a 78% average in math, so be it, that was her grade. Her parents would be upset and she would study harder (this is hypothetical- mother was an excellent student). There were also grades for items like handwriting, citizenship, and deportment. The teacher may have written a short comment in perfect script, but that was about it.
My own report cards were quite different. They still had all the subjects listed, but there were no numbers on the report, other than the attendance records. Everything was scored on an O/S/N basis. I had mostly O’s, for outstanding, and several S+ marks too (satisfactory, of course). N was a mark I never received. Horror, to receive a needs improvement in elementary school. My teachers wrote chipper paragraphs about how delightful I was, and they thanked my parents for sending me to school. What I wouldn’t give to do THOSE report cards!
When I started my career, our report cards were a mix of the two. We still assigned the O/S/N scores in each area, but we also gave out academic letter grades, plus a breakdown of skill abilities, which were assigned a slash, a plus, or an x.
Go figure. This was a complex document, and it took half of a parent/teacher conference to explain it.
Then, along came the new report cards, which were connected to the online gradebook. One might think this would be a great time saver, but one would be mistaken. Sure there are some nice features. The days of manually figuring grades are long past, and the scores automatically populate the report card, but now there are twice as many (at least) categories requiring not only some type of score, but explanation to parents. We have entered the era of the two sided report card. The slash, plus, x system has been replaced by a 1,2,3 system, that most people understand better, so that’s a positive, but there are simply too many categories.
As a parent I want to know how my child is doing overall, then how he or she is doing in each subject area. If she’s struggling in math, please tell me what I can do to help her. Should we be studying types of polygons or memorizing multiplication facts or working on subtraction word problems? That information isn’t clearly conveyed in this extensive document. What it does contain is a lot of jargon that I, as a parent, don’t really understand. It’s just too much.
In my experience, parents of fourth graders want to know a few basic things about their kids as they relate to school.
1. Does he have friends? Most parents already know the answer to this one, but for those who aren’t sure it’s vitally important that they know.
2. Does she behave herself and do her work? This is of paramount importance, because it frames everything that comes after. Most parents want their kids to try hard and do well, but if they can’t have both they want them to try hard. Also, if a child is doing poorly, it may be that they aren’t applying themselves. If this is your child, I promise that if the little cherub would listen to the directions and then follow them, he or she would learn more and do better.
3. How is she doing in the main subject areas- reading, writing, and math? These are the cornerstones of later learning, and parents know it. They see the homework, but they often don’t have a benchmark for where their child falls in terms of their learning. They want to know if they’re doing ok.
4. How can I help him? This is a genuine heartfelt concern. Parents want to help their kids succeed. It is hardwired in most of us. They want concrete ideas and they want to be acknowledged for the things they are doing right. They may not hear it from anyone but us. Just showing up for the conference is worthy of praise, it shows commitment to education and making the child a priority.
5. Will my child be alright? Maybe she will and maybe she won’t. We have data and test scores and years of experience working with similar students, and we will do whatever it takes to get your child moving in the right direction if he or she is not currently making adequate progress. We are on your child’s side, always. Some children need a little extra encouragement, other children need a myriad of interventions to help them learn. Let’s work together to find out what is going on and what will best help your child.
If we could design an instrument that addresses these five areas without all the extra hoopla, I think we would be doing everyone a favor. Well, everyone but the companies that profit from these overly complex reporting systems. In most cases, I want to just write, “Don’t worry Momma (or Daddy, Grandma, Aunt Debbie, or whomever is raising that child), your child is doing just fine.”