One of my little “Spring Break Projects” has me looking at reporting student achievement. Timing has been perfect as proved by a conversation I had with one of my staff after we finished a day (right before Spring Break) talking as a district about reporting & assessment – he has been piloting ePortfolios (using FreshGrade) at the school I am at this year, and has been asking very good questions (the ones that don’t have yes/no answers). But one of the ones I appreciated was around ‘how long have we (as educators) been thinking about letter grades and doing-different?’
That led me to an old notebook on my shelf. My dad’s journal that came my way just a few years ago (it had been kept somewhere ‘safe’ so that means it remains ‘safe’ until the house is packed for a move). I shared it with the teacher, because what I like to say is “I’ve been questioning grading and school marks since I was in urtero – when my dad was (I imagine) reading his masters readings to me entitled “The Farce Called Grading” and ‘Report Cards and Parents’ which starts: “School report cards can be, and too often are, ambiguous and untrustworthy to a degree wholly unsuspected by parents”
So, that led to another ‘uncomfortable question’ – “If there has been so many working for so many years to change the report card system, why would it change now?”
I have many responses, which can range to ‘over the top’ discussions around malpractice to the more ‘realistic’ observation that ‘we do what was done to us’.
I also turn to some of the questions that my father asked, and I continue as I push more and more for the embracing of eportfolios as part of Descriptive Feedback Loops…that is, to have individual students on personalized learning tracks where their ‘next steps’ of learning may not be the same as anyone else in the school, but the work is held to specific standards with feedback coming from the teacher to the student about what works, what doesn’t and what they need to focus on [with help – aka teaching] to improve the work they are doing….and make the learning relevant and meaningful.
I’ve shared this before: this is not what report cards were designed to do. They were ways of creating a rank-order based on completing common tasks (aka the industrial revolution) https://technolandy.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/sol-9-i-learned-i-dont-want-a-faster-horse/
But…ongoing feedback, to the parents and learners, using eportfolios (ongoing, real-time feedback) allows the conversation to occur while the learning/doing is fresh – not two months afterwards and only 3-5 times a year.
The key ‘problem exists in understanding'” (brackets are my quick thoughts)
- give parents information (which they need in order to know how to support)
- to give pupils information (which they need in a TIMELY manner in order to know what they should be focusing on next…before another task is started)
- philosophy of the school (district…province….country….region…)
- context achievement (I cannot support statements such as “all students will read at grade level” because there is too broad a range just with ages – a grade 1 class may have two children born in December but a year apart; we would not allow this in many athletic groupings, but for some reason ‘year of manufacture’ is more important than ‘month of manufacture’ when establishing classroom learning environments <– and yes, I am guilty of doing this on a regular basis)
- Parent/Teacher conferences (which can be difficult when the parents we most want to communicate with may have had bad school experiences and be very leery of venturing back into the school)
- written reports (which mean that Relationships become even more important – as my teacher said, when he was working on his summary’s-of-learning, there were some students that he did not know as well as he feels he should to give meaningful feedback to in specific subjects…..and giving a 3/B would’ve been MUCH easier….)
- a dual marking system? (I think my dad was in error here….a dual marking system may devalue a focus on formative assessments – once a letter/number is placed on the paper, the learning has ‘stopped’ (which I’m fine with when it’s the student making that decision, because then if they want to ‘restart it’ it’s their ownership of the learning) I think I prefer the ongoing feedback loops leading to a portfolio review at the end of the year to be compliant to the ministry of education and their current desire to have a letter grade entered onto the PR (permanent record) card.
As one of the articles nicely declared – “Report cards: one face of a three-headed monster” (with curriculum and evaluation being the other two). We should never be satisfied with what we have and are doing, but should instead be continuing to look at how to continue to improve the communication methodologies between the school, the home and the Learners.