Dear Ontario Parents,
Don’t stress about withheld report cards. Seriously. They really aren’t the ‘cat’s meow’ you think they are.
There are many ways to get more authentic feedback about your children’s learning other than reading the subjective grades and boxed comments associated with report cards.
This is actually a great opportunity for you to change the way you look at school assessment and feedback about your child. The ball’s in your court; here’s how you can make a play.
Read on to learn about a few strategies you can test out. Trust me – once you do, you’ll see report cards as what they truly are…prescribed, administrative forms.
Follow and interact with teachers via your child’s online classroom, or communication app (such as Seesaw)
Teachers who effectively use these applications post regular assignments and updates about your child’s progress, assessments, classroom activities, etc. My son’s teacher is currently using Seesaw. Through downloading the app, I can learn what activities he’s been doing, about assessments she’s done with him as well as his behaviour (which has been great thus far – phew).I can also chat back and forth with her via the messaging text.
Open regular lines of communication with teachers via email, phone or in person
Teachers are open to talking about your child’s progress, behaviour or activities at any time – not just when report cards are issued. By opening up lines of communication via email, phone or in person, you can find out any and all information you’d like about your child’s progress and behaviour.
Often, the feedback you’ll get via these more personal methods is significantly more detailed and authentic than a random letter or number associated with a ministry approved strength – weakness – next step comment.
I keep in touch with both my kids teachers regularly via different methods – my son’s teacher via Seesaw (as noted above), and my daughter’s teachers via email. They always respond promptly and as a result I’m never surprised about what ends up on their report cards – actually, I barely look at them other than a quick scan or to have my kids read them out loud to discuss what they think about them.
Here’s an email I sent to my daughter’s teacher last night due to incomplete homework. If there’s an issue, I’ll receive a reply and we’ll work out any necessary follow up steps.
If the lines of communication are enacted and open with your child’s teachers, you can request an update at any time that is significantly more valuable than the generic soundbite you’ll find on their report card. Taking the time to create these relationships with your children’s teachers is instrumental in understanding what they are learning and how they are progressing.
Pay attention to standardized testing results (both formal and informal)
If you’re a regular reader of Teacherevolution, you know that I feel that ‘report card grades’ are – well – fairly useless when it comes to a student’s actual ability in key subject areas such as literacy and numeracy.
My blog, Why (as a teacher and parent) I value standardized testing pretty much sums up my opinion on the subject:
“One of the largest challenges about teaching is the massive inconsistency of the practice. Teaching is by nature a subjective practice and is exceptionally dynamic due to a variety of fluctuating factors, including: personal mental and physical health, changing curriculum, students, administrators, ministry initiatives, physical environments and parental support, etc.
Moreover, despite the existence of in-school, board and provincial exemplars and collaborative grading standards, all teachers grade subjectively. The variation in the assignments and grading of ‘student A’ and ‘student B’ could be drastically different in the same school, district or province depending on their teacher’s experience, expectations and school culture.”
The point I’m getting at here is that the grades and comments you see on report cards are highly subjective. Really, they are a better gauge of how your child is doing in a subject area compared to other students in the class.
Report card grades are also highly influenced by the demographic of your child’s school. If your child is at a high performing school, in an affluent geographic area, chances are they’ll need to work significantly harder for higher grades as there is a great deal of competition from other strong students. If they attend a low performing school in a struggling or rural area with a small population, the competition decreases, thus it becomes much easier to score straight A’s.
Standardized tests (like EQAO, Fontas & Pinell, Lexia, OLSAT, etc.) are far from perfect, but at least offer some objectivity. As a parent, I’m very concerned about these results due to the fact that they remove the subjectivity of my kid’s teachers and their school culture. They also give specific feedback (similar to report cards) in terms of skills your child should be focusing on as demonstrated by the EQAO example below.
Although parents are aware of EQAO testing and results, chances are there are standardized tests occurring either formally or informally at your child’s school that may not be as publicized. Many schools and districts use standardized tests focused on literacy and numeracy skills to gauge student needs and a direction for teacher pedagogical improvement.
It wouldn’t hurt to ask your child’s teacher or school if there have been any recent assessments and what your child’s results were compared to the standardized benchmarks of the assessment tool. Again, these results will give you a much broader picture of your student’s achievement in particular subject areas beyond their classroom or school walls.
Work and learn beside your child at home
As a high school English teacher, I’m always shocked when I ask parents the last time they read with their children, or read something their child wrote and they look at me with a blank stare.
Parental involvement with education shouldn’t end with loading them on the school bus in the morning. If you take the time on a regular basis to check in with your child’s skills at home, you’ll always be ‘in the know’ about their scholastic abilities.
If you’re unsure of what your child should actually know or be able to do in a particular subject area or grade level, you can even be a keener and take a look at Ontario’s public education curriculum, available and updated in real time at: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/.
Education is a partnership between parents, teachers, students and schools, but in the end parents should have the greatest investment and involvement in their kids education. Taking the time to do homework together, read together, write, draw, explore the outdoors, learn new things and experiment are activities that parents can participate in, which will give them a great amount of insight into their child’s abilities and interests.
When I heard that elementary teachers in Ontario were withholding report cards due to the ongoing education labour dispute, I barely batted an eyelash due to my personal opinion that they are overly subjective administrative necessities .
However, when I noticed the parental backlash to this on social media, I knew it would be my next blog topic.
I also knew that my goal in writing should be to inform parents that report cards really aren’t all their cracked up to be, and that they can learn about their children’s school progress in many more effective ways.
What are your thoughts or comments about report cards being withheld in Ontario schools? Comment below.