Please help us design the ideal report card…
This year, our elementary school is looking at a most exciting project – redesigning our report card. With the help of our fantastic consultant, (who specializes in math but is really a master at building consensus and empowering teachers to take initiative to create change), our goal is to create a standards-based report card that is effectively illustrates the profile of the learner at a given time. Whereas this seems like a most daunting task, it is also a very exciting one. As pedagogues, this is the start of a very stimulating professional dialogue. What’s even more fascinating in that our school information system is a home-grown program. That is, the person who created the program that currently helps us create and keep track of all information concerning students (enrollment, grade book for secondary students, health, report cards, curriculum mapping, etc) is sitting downstairs in the technology department! This provides us with the opportunity to design a report card with few, if any, format constraints! A blank slate!
So, what does the ideal report card look like? I’m hoping my treasured PLN can provide input on this question. Though there are literally hundreds of different report card models available, I have yet to see one that really hits the nail on the head. I think the challenge is to strike the perfect balance – providing sufficient information to be useful without overwhelming the reader. What do you think a report card should look like? What are the non-negotiables (must have), the important elements (should have), and the helpful (nice-to-have) elements?
Questions to ponder:
Who is the report card for? Parents? Students? Students’ future schools? Teachers? School admin?
I think there are several possible answers to this question. The problem is that each of these stake holders potentially has very different needs. Parents need information about how their child is progressing. Hopefully, the report card can also provide them with information about how they can help their child move forward. Students need feedback (which they should already get, daily, in conversations with the teacher) and ideas for next steps in the “story of their learning”. Future schools need clear pictures of where a student’s strengths and challenges lie, so that they can provide the most appropriate services for him/her. Teachers need to spend time thinking carefully about each student, where s/he is at the time, where s/he needs to go, and how the teacher can help guide forward progress.
Should there be many indicators, or fewer indicators and more anecdotal information?
Personally, I am very inclined towards anecdotal information – I write a page per student (8pt font!) every trimester. I feel that grades for indicators are not unlike some carrot and stick approaches some forward-thinking reform-oriented educators are trying to set aside. Though students in our school do not receive number grades (percentages) nor letter grades (A,B,C,D), but instead indicators are rated on a scale, I feel that in essence, these two approaches are not fundamentally very different.
C = Area of Concern
S = Needs Support to Meet Expectations
I = Meets expecations
E = Exceeds expectations
As a parent, I would like to know much more than “Comprehends when reading”. I would prefer to know what kinds of strategies my child has tried, where he has succeeded, and where challenges still lie so that I can help him move forward – this is something that only an anectodal comment can best describe. So, as I teacher, I try to provide the very information about students that I hope to read about own child. Yes, long anecdotal comments take forever to write (no release time for report card writing!) but to me, it is an opportunity to reflect on each student’s development, and consider what I can do to best serve that student’s needs. That said, though some teachers, like me, write long anecdotal comments, others, barely write three lines. So when were are considering report card design, how can we ensure that anecdotal comments are substantial enough to provide useful information?
Should indicators be specific or general?
Here, I think the trade off is quantity. More specific indicators can provide a very detailed profile of a student at a given time, but can also be overwhelming. Fewer general comments may be easier to read, but don’t provide the same depth of information. In my opinion, specific indicators not only provide detailed information, they may also help students (with the help of parents and teachers) formulate learning goals. Of course, as a parent, I love getting as much information about my child as possible, but I’m conscious of the fact that I’m an educator and that not all parents may feel this way. One route that our school is considering is to reword standards and benchmarks so that they are “parent-friendly” (less educational jargon).
Same indicators for whole school year, or different report cards every trimester?
Another consideration we are grappling with is whether or not to have the same list of indicators on all three report cards (i.e. everything on all report cards) or to have a different report card each trimester. Though some say that having the same report card with 3 columns (one for each trimester) allows parents to see progress throughout the year, some would argue that expectations change for each trimester and thus comparing the grades for different trimesters on a given indicator may not be a fair comparison. For example, a student who earned an “I” (meets expecations independently) one trimester may get an “S” (needs support to meet expectations) the next trimester, because the expectations change from one trimester to the next.
Theoretically, trimester-specific report cards would give teachers the possibility of selecting the specific benchmarks (reworded) that were targeted and assessed for a specific trimester, and assign them to the report card template for a specific trimester. Not only would it be an opportunity for teachers to reflect on how each child is doing, it would also serve the double purpose of requiring teachers to reflect on the benchmarks they have targeted and those they may need to place more focus on in the future.
Redesigning a report card is a process that we went through at my last school, though I moved long before the process was complete. Though a great deal was learned about assessment, and the pedagogical conversations were stimulating, the end result, a collection of rubrics, was unwieldy and inefficient.
However, I will say that one of the things I do miss from my last school is the fact that we had a full ped day for report card writing for every trimester. I would spread my students’ work around me using all the tables in the classroom, and spend the day observing, reflecting, and synthesizing. In my current school, we are given wonderful amounts of time for planning and collaboration, but no time is given for looking assessment, evaluation and, the main function of report cards, communication. The report card is an official document that is very telling of a school’s approach and philosophy. In designing a report card, the utmost care must be taken in taking into account all considerations.
If you were to design the ideal report card, what would it look like?