What is a progress report and what function does it serve?
This is an excellent question, and it has more than one correct answer. The following is my reality.
I teach elementary school. In our school we have a four quarter system, meaning that each quarter a report card is sent home to parents with grades and notations about how their child is performing in school. Note the term performing. It has grades on it, based on the work the student has done (or, in some cases, chosen not to do). It is not an indicator of ability.
Twice a year, in the fall and in the spring, every teacher in our school invites every parent to come in for a parent-teacher conference, to discuss each child’s individual growth and progress. We discuss strengths, weaknesses, and strategies to help each student achieve and learn.
In addition to these six detailed and time intensive points of contact, we send home mid-quarter progress reports. These are not as elaborate as the report card, but they do give a snapshot view of how the child is doing, grade-wise, at the middle point of each quarter. At this point students who are struggling can still make a tremendous amount of improvement, and poor grades are not set in stone. The idea of these reports is to communicate with parents, particularly those whose students may not be bringing home their scored work.
For those of you keeping track at home, we’re at ten formal communications at this point. For my group this year that means 340+ combined reports and meetings (some families request and receive more than one, due to family issues).
Now add in the semi-formal communications. There are notes that are periodically sent home to all the students both from the school and from the grade-level or classroom teachers. There are also bits of information shared with parents via student agendas, (i.e., “Boys and girls, write this down and be sure to tell your parents”). Then there are the personal notes, emails, and telephone calls, not to mention the additional meetings for students with special needs, and for those whom we suspect may have some of those needs, but have not yet been identified. Factor in a few extra parent meetings to discuss particular situations, quick conversations at pick up time, and daily written check-ins for selected students, and you have a great deal of parent communication during any given week.
Of course it seems that some of the families require a large amount of this time, while others need far less. Still, it is important to keep lines of communication open for everyone, which is why, in addition to those formal conferences and reports, our district makes our online grade-book available to parents.
At the beginning of the school year we sent home information about how parents can sign in to it, and follow their child’s progress day by day, if they wish. I check my son’s progress at his school’s webpage regularly, and I ask him about particular assignments. It keeps him honest and it keeps me informed.
I wish more of our parents would take advantage of this opportunity. This past week another round of progress reports went out and I had a few responses from parents who were surprised and upset that their students had some poor grades. They were upset with me, and with the fact that I didn’t notify them immediately when their child received a poor mark on a particular assignment. One wrote that “there has been little to no communication this year” and another wants a weekly progress report from here on out. Just to be clear, there are four weeks of school left, and at the end of the fourth week the child will receive the final report card.
I am not opposed to communicating with parents, in fact I welcome the opportunity to collaborate with parents. I’m a parent myself and I know how distressing it can be when you feel that your child is having a hard time in school. I try to make myself available to my families. I use my cell phone to make phone calls home, so parents can call me back if necessary after hours, and I exchange text messages with parents. I encourage email, because it is the least intrusive way to communicate in the classroom setting, and I reply to parent notes, as I will with these.
I will gently remind these parents that a) the grades are not the final quarter grade and b) they can log in to see their children’s grades every day and c) the purpose of the report is to share data with them after some has been acquired. I am not ignoring them or their child by not calling each time a child fails to turn in an assignment or has a poor grade on an assignment. I take a longer term view of their growth and achievement. If I have a particular concern about a child’s learning, the parent will hear from me.
I’m sorry that these parents are upset that their children haven’t done as well on a few assignments as they would have liked, but there is time for them to do better. Part of letting children grow up is letting them experience consequences for their actions, and if that means that they’ve earned a poor grade, then isn’t it better that they learn that lesson in elementary school than later on?
Progress reports allow parents an opportunity to sit down with their children and praise them from the things they are doing correctly, and question them about the things they have struggled with. If your child doesn’t turn in his homework, he needs to take responsibility for that. If he doesn’t understand long division, he may need your help with that. Now take a deep breath and remember, this is elementary school, he’s got a long way to go yet. Also remember, we are a team, and my goal is to help him be as successful as possible. I assure you, poor grades do not give me some kind of rush. I would much rather see your child with a report full of wonderful grades. I am, however, realistic about the work that he or she has done. I promise you, I am not your child’s – or your – enemy. Maybe, just maybe, this one poor report isn’t all on me.