R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure)

The R in Theory & Practice in Ontario

One of the good things about the use of R in today’s report cards is that it is a red flag meaning HELP NEEDED HERE!  It does not assess how well a student is learning that grade’s curriculum; where an R is assigned it means that the student will need remediation to reach a level where she can start learning that grade’s curriculum.  The R also indicates that the child’s parents need to be involved.

The questions are what kind of help, how, who will deliver it and how soon it can be delivered. It can be taken as given that the teacher is already differentiating appropriately for the student, although if she is the one teaching 29 students of whom 25 are on IEPs one could be forgiven for wondering how that is going.  (see Inclusive Education in Practice) Cleaning the Augean Stables might be easier.

Planning for a Child Assessed with an R

When a student is assessed with an R, a plan must be created to address how the student will acquire the necessary remediation.  That plan must indicate what the teacher will do and how the parent will be involved.  Both stakeholders and other relevant members of the staff will have input, but creating the plan is the unspoken responsibility of the teacher.

Pedagogically, this is a sound idea.  The student is regarded not as a failure but one who needs help.  The school and family join forces to see he gets that help.  If they can identify ways and means to do it without anyone, and especially the parents, made to feel that they aren’t doing enough, then the child’s remediation might prove effective.

Parents and Teachers Working Together

It takes a lot of tact to discuss simple things at home that can make a big difference at school. All that apple pie stuff about good nutrition, a good breakfast, enough sleep, sufficient time, quiet and place to do homework, consistency and patience are true.  There is a reason children are not born able to stand on their own two feet.

More than anything, most teachers would love to include the following in the plan:

o      Bobby’s parents will continue to work with the school to create an educational and behavioural plan to help him improve.

o      Bobby’s parents will not give up after three weeks involvement in a plan because:

§       They don’t yet see improvement

§       Bobby says his teacher says he doesn’t need it

§       Bobby drives them nuts with his complaining about the plan

§       It’s too much work

Consistency isn’t easy but it makes a difference in helping children.

Teachers and parents often choose the one or two things they see as most important and focus on those.  Further, they tend to choose concrete items.  A favourite is the agenda.

In that case the plan is clear and simple: the teacher will check that homework is written down accurately in the child’s agenda and initial it.  At home, the parents will check the agenda, see that the listed homework is done and initial the agenda.  (see Should Students in French Immersion Need Tutors? for Dr. Maggie Memen’s model for shared responsibility for homework)  The teacher may add that she will follow-up with an in school team meeting and seek the advice of her colleagues.

The In School Team Meeting

The in school team meeting as it is usually called is often a good resource for teachers.  The principal or vice-principal attends as well as a special needs teacher and often an out of school resource person.  Their questions are brief, relevant and helpful.  In addition to practical advice they may encourage the teacher to start the process for educational and psychological testing.

Looking for Help Outside the Classroom, the School and the Board

Not all the suggestions require teacher or parent action.  Some require the board to act, for example, by providing psychological testing, but the child may wait six months to a year for board action. Since that kind of delay is too long in the short life of a child’s education, teachers might advise parents to pay for testing privately if they can afford it; this, of course, cannot be written up as part of the plan to help the student.  A teacher who is known to have suggested to parents that they pay out of their own pockets for a service boards are expected to provide is risking a reprimand.

Even assuming he qualifies for help, the right placement might not be available for the student.  Other kinds of help require money, public or private.  Sometimes a social worker can chase down some support; sometimes it is a question of getting in line; sometimes it just isn’t there.

An R May Not be Used Repeatedly

Finally, teachers are instructed that an R may not be used repeatedly. This is a puzzle; what if the student continues to work at this level?  What if the parents and teacher are doing their part of the plan but waiting for the board to do its part?  How does a teacher avoid putting an R on the report card in these instances?  This does sound like a thirteenth labour of Hercules!

R as an Improvement in Attitude on F

In spite of some of the practical difficulties an R creates, it is not the dead-end that an F for failure was.  The spirit is that if a child is not succeeding she either needs remediation or support or is in the wrong program.  It does not preclude the possibility that the child needs to change her behaviour.

As you can see, like a lot of well-meaning pedagogical ideas, the R on the Ontario report card requires solid support to be effective. Whether sufficient support exists in every Ontario school for every student with an R is another story.

For more Information on Report Cards:

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part One of Three to understand how marks are derived.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Two of Three to understand how comments are generated.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Three of Three to reflect on how each of the three parties involved can work on any issues brought up by the report card.

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4 responses to “R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure)

  1. The concept of “R” that you speak of is too pie in the sky for students older than in the primary age. Frankly, some kids fail because they are lazy. It’s not up to the teacher to motivate every student to study and memorize material. The end result of this new ministry plan is that teachers avoid giving “R’s” on report cards because they know the R will result in extra work for them and no change of expectations / work habits for the student.
    The middle years are the hardest to motivate students. They don’t care about pleasing the teacher like a very young student does and they’re too far away from graduation to worry about how marks might affect them.

    • R is difficult for most kids to understand so it is a good thing that report cards are written for parents and other educational professionals. At that, they are often perplexing for parents; parents from other countries or provinces often ask me for a translation. Sometimes I wish we could simply say: Jonny understands the math concepts easily, but his work is so sloppily laid out that he mixes up the numbers and ends up making arithmetical errors. He needs to learn that the devil is in the details. While Jonny does enjoy academic work and is usually very focused when he has individual work, he resents having to cooperate with the other students and they are beginning to be unhappy about working with him. Things would go better if he stopped calling them dummies and spitting at them. Not many parents would be happy with such a blunt assessment and they would never receive it as the principal would turn the teacher to the canned comments to rephrase them something like this:
      Jonny has some understanding of three column addition and subtraction. Next steps are to pay attention to lining the columns up to ensure accuracy. Jonny enjoyed our unit on volume. He is an excellent independent worker but has considerable difficulty collaborating with his peers. Next steps are to use more appropriate language and behaviour.
      I used to think that some kids were lazy but the more I taught the less I believed it. Then I read Could Do Better and that convinced me that there is more going on in the kid who presents as lazy. It is a book well worth reading. There are students who work hard but aren’t going to get it and those need an R until the teacher can get permission to modify or accommodate for them. What worries me is that it takes far too long to get these children seen and assessed.
      It is hard on the teacher to have to add to her work load by giving an R, especially as the school board many be inclined to take the view that children with an R are not technically exceptional and therefore do not require additional help – whether through the special ed teacher or an educational assistant (should they be able to afford it).
      I do agree that it is not the teacher’s job to motivate students. It is the student’s job to work hard enough to find the work interesting and it is the parents’ job to assist the teacher in teaching the student to work hard. We pass too much of the students’ work to their parents and teachers; it is time to give them back the responsibility. Dr. Maggie Mamen’s in her book, The Pamper Child Syndrome, has created a chart of teacher, student and parent responsibilities for homework. Many parents found it useful to tape it to the fridge. It was a useful reference when their child tried to pass the homework buck. Teachers should have it poster sized in their classrooms.
      I think that instead of worrying about failing students, we should stop giving A’s for mediocre work. D’s should be for work that shows a nodding acquaintance with the concept, C’s for a respectable understanding, B’s for a solid understanding and A’s should be reserved for the student who not only understands but can deal with the concept in another guise. Students who get A’s for doing the same problems with different numbers accurately are far too generously marked. As it is not clear they actually understand the concept, they are C students until they prove otherwise, and yet these are the kinds of tests, exams and marks that are being expected by grade eleven and twelve math students who are university bound from Ottawa high schools. Let us make the A’s and B’s harder to get and the standard of the whole class will rise. Give grade seven and eight students real work with real expectations (they know they can only be failed once) and they will work, too.

  2. Love how you described A,B,C & D (a nodding acquaintance with the concept). Obviously I wished all my students were A & B’s..many may have that potential but are not quite ready yet to realize that potential & this is were I believe the honest discussion with parents should be.

  3. Would you believe I once used the same wording, more or less, in an email to my colleagues? I believe I described R as – not a hope in getting the concept without considerable help. I was asking if they had a similar understanding of the marking system. My (fit suitable adjective in here) principal reprimanded me for being disrespectful. Another reason to be thankful to no longer be in the front lines.

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