INTERPRETING COMMENTS ON THE REPORT CARD
In vain we begged students and parents to focus on the learning skills and comments instead of the marks. Asking them to focus on the comments proved to be a mistake in some cases and here is why.
Teachers are asked to list the students’ strengths, weaknesses and next steps in the comments section, using verbs and adverbs from a number of suggested lists. They do not have to be used, but a teacher who does use them is less likely to be asked to redo a comment. It is accepted practice to write a generic remark for all the students and then individualize each one with appropriate adverbs and perhaps more personal next steps. Some teachers get very clever at writing the generic comment. The generic child in the report card program is called Casper. Here is an example of the generic comment: “Casper has demonstrated an understanding of the usefulness of titles and subtitles in anticipating the topics covered in difficult text. He has difficulty using context, the titles and other vocabulary to infer meaning for unknown words. He is encouraged to read more non-fiction and take time to reflect on difficult language.” In the first sentence, “thoroughly” can be inserted after demonstrated or “a thorough” can replace “a” to create an appropriate comment for a level 4 student. If Casper is having difficulty, then “not yet” can be inserted between “has” and “demonstrated” or more mildly “rarely” or “occasionally” might be inserted. The teacher might have written the second sentence because the majority of students were having the same problem and part of the solution might be encapsulated in the third sentence. Again, the second sentence might be modified by suggesting that Casper has “some difficulty” or “little difficulty” in which case he may be “encouraged to continue to read …” in the third sentence. The program will change Casper to the child’s name and put in the correct pronouns and modifiers. Occasionally it makes a mistake and when we don’t catch it in the proofreading, there is an indignant student.
You may be wondering about all the stuff about sub titles, context and inferring. These are some of the buzzwords in a new (and excellent) approach to teaching reading, called Balanced Literacy. The teacher is signaling to the principal or vice-principal who will be reading and signing her report cards that she is very much au courant with the latest and greatest trend in teaching to the extent of using it and evaluating it in her classroom. It’s also a signal to any parents who like to research the latest in teaching. Why would she bother? Teachers are under some pressure to be seen to be aware of and impressed by whatever the latest thing in education is. This is because principals are pressured to have the latest and best in their schools and so on. Sometimes it is sufficient to have the outward garb such as the Word Wall of Balanced Literacy and it is rather funny to see educators faking it. In the best schools, whatever comes across the teachers’ desks is evaluated for usefulness and integrated as appropriate. The report card comments may seem mechanical and awkward. They make anyone who likes good writing shudder, however parents were promised accountability and for some, that means report cards being the same while being individualized. There are times when doing a good job in education feels like being the old man and his donkey. Perhaps we listen too much to everyone’s opinion instead of trusting those experienced and well-educated professionals in the classrooms to pose the problems and propose the solutions. That’s a discussion for another day.
For More Information:
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 Three of Three to reflect on how each of the three parties involved can work on any issues brought up by the report card. R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure) to understand what an R on the report card means.