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“Description of a grade: An inadequate report of an inaccurate judgment by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an undefined level of mastery of an unknown proportion of an indefinite material.” ~P. Dressel~
After what felt like an eternity, I logged onto WordPress this evening (finally). It didn’t hurt that I was trapped at the airport waiting out a stormy winter night of flight delays. I knew it had been a while since I had posted an entry, but I was honestly shocked when I realized it had been exactly two months since my last post (ouch).
In fairness, it’s not like I’ve been shirking; I had the usual crazy school administrator December evening concerts and staff ‘functions’ (for two schools), a week in Mexico, Christmas, the NFL playoffs and, most importantly, some really excellent ski conditions in Ontario. What of January, you ask? Report Cards.
In Ontario, we are in year one of the implementation of the new assessment and evaluation policy document, Growing Success. The document is the product of what was a rather comprehensive review of Ontario Ministry of Education’s policies and directives on assessment and evaluation and was release with much fanfare last spring. Part of this review resulted in the redesign of the report card that would be used and an adjustment to the time lines that had existed previously. Rather than issue a full report card in late November, teachers in Ontario now issue an interim or progress report in early November and formal report at the beginning of February.
For the most part, I’m indifferent to this time line shift with one caveat; I’m sure that ramping up to write and read formal report cards right after the start of school in January is not entirely appreciated by teachers or their administrators, but such is life. It’s not the time line that is an issue for me, it is the overwhelming sense of angst and drama that is attached to report cards in the first place. So much energy for what amounts to, in the end, an over-sized fridge magnet.
I have a a few simple beliefs about assessment and evaluation that have actually served me well. One is that the more time and effort teachers put into effective, meaningful assessment, the easier it is to report on student learning (what do we always say to our students; ‘write about what you know’). Another is a simple ratio of time/energy use- 90% Assessment, 5% Evaluation, 5%Reporting. The last is, if you can find a technology that will make the reporting part more efficient, then use it, because if you have the first two beliefs in place, the third will be just fine.
As a vice principal, I don’t write report cards for students any more (just performance appraisals) but I read them, lots of them, and I have a few reflections to share:
- It’s important to note that, in general, administrators get just as worked up about reports as a ‘product’ as teachers do, and usually for the same reasons. We worry about wordings, spelling and grammar and whether the marks align with the comments. This is not always a good thing because few of us do our best when we are under stress, especially when that stress is shared by the whole staff and most especially when teachers are directed to perform the dreaded ‘report card do-over.’
- It is also important to point out that a poorly rendered report card that is full of dodgy, cut and paste generic comments, is not actually evidence of poor evaluation and reporting skills, but rather a reflection of a weak understanding of assessment (see 90/5/5 ratio).
Both of these observations connect to the broader, leadership challenge that I feel we face in this area and that is the challenge of shifting our beliefs about assessment through a precise process that is learning focused, rather than product-focused. A teacher who struggles to write an effective report card will not learn anything by having to re-write the report with an bank of -insert comment here- remarks because the problem resides in the teacher’s lack of knowledge of the learner, not the report card.
Administrators who recognize this can make the wise decision to invest the precious professional learning time of the teachers they lead in developing the 90%. A good start would be planning to spend some time using weak and strong examples of actual report cards as the context for this learning; along with the question, “what do you think this teacher knows that allows them (strong) or forces them (weak) to write this report card?”
Early in my career, at a parent-teacher conference, a father slid his child’s report card across the table and said, ‘you don’t understand, it’s not the report card I don’t believe, it’s you I don’t believe’. I’m pretty sure he didn’t put that report card on the fridge!