I’m working on my final report cards for the year. We have a brand new reporting system in our school district this year as a part of a two year trial pilot. We’ve moved from letters to a 1-4 point scale and the program we’re using greatly limits the amount of comments we can give. We did two progress reports which were just a quick report to let parents and students know if they’re on track or not, and we’re doing two achievement reports which are more like the traditional report cards.
Parents and teachers are finding the change difficult. There are some positives to the new ones. You get to create a comment bank, which took a long time, but once it was done it was much faster to do my comments than it normally is. With the old report cards it would often take me about half an hour per child which doesn’t sound like much but even with a class of only 20 students, that means 10 hours of time working on report cards outside of my regular school work. These ones take a bit less time once I have a good comment bank to work with but they still take a long time to finish and the program isn’t super user friendly. It doesn’t feel like it was designed with elementary report cards in mind but I can see how it would be much more useful in middle and high school.
One of the problems that parents and teachers seem to have with this new system is with this new 4 point scale. Basically a 1 means a student is putting little to no effort in and is not getting the concepts at all. 2 shows some effort and is starting to get the concepts. 3 is working at grade level and 4 is above grade level work. For some subjects, like French, I found using this scale pretty easy and straightforward. Oddly enough, I found it much harder with Math. For instance, if I give a test and a student gets a 10/10, is that a 3 or a 4? Are they working at grade level if they get every question correct or is that above grade level? Or is it only a 4 if they get bonus points for extra work or going beyond what I asked of them?
In French it’s pretty simple. If I ask someone, for example, “Comment ça va et pourquoi?” and they refuse to answer because they have no idea what I’m saying or how to answer despite the fact we’ve been doing this since grade 4, that would be a 1. I don’t have any 1’s in my classes luckily. If they need me to model what the answer could be or they respond but with “Ca va bien parce que c’est…. comment dit ton sunny?” that would be a 2. If they answer “Ca va bien parce que c’est vendredi” that would be a 3 and if they make up a great sentence about why they are in the mood they are in then that’s a 4.
I had one parent last time we sent these report cards in ask why their child had received a 3 in art. I explained what each of the numbers meant again and explained that their child was doing what was asked and worked well in art but didn’t go above and beyond. They were a bit disappointed in my answer. After I thought about it I wondered why did that mark matter so much? In fact, why do any of the marks matter at all other than as a quick benchmark to see how each student is doing? Anything above a 1 shows that they’re making an effort and making progress and isn’t that what’s important after all? Beyond the student and the parent seeing their progress, are these marks at all important? Their teacher next year might glance at them to get an idea of where the student is coming from, but other than that, they really don’t matter. There is no way that some employer is ever going to say “Sorry, we’d love to hire you but we see you only got a 2 in Science in grade 4 so we can’t take you.” No one is going to put their grade 5 French mark on their dating profile. And no one’s going to be fast tracked to be able to adopt because they got a 4 in Math in grade 3.
So why do teachers spend hours agonizing over each and every mark and comment and why do students and parents get so worked up about these marks? Especially in Elementary, I’d love to try out a mark-less system where we give comments on strengths and next steps and that’s it. That’s the important part in my mind.