A Teacher Talks Report Cards: What's the Freaking Point?

Does anyone really care about the report cards without comments?

A Teacher Talks Report Cards: What's the Freaking Point?

Report cards - do they mean anything?

When my daughter was about 4 months old we went into Parent and Tot swimming and at the end, she received her first report card. On bright pink paper adorned with stickers and drops of pool water, yet I still tucked that precious paper away in her keepsake box. At the time, her skill set included drooling and holding her head up and her “swimming” ability was based solely on my bouncing her around and singing songs while in the water, but still, somehow, the report card signified an achievement. That paper shows my baby put in the required effort and completed something.

These days, in Ontario, school report cards are all over the news. Due to current job action, teachers, under the direction of their union, were advised to continue assessing and evaluating students, as they always had. However, they were also advised to only provide to principals a list of student names and their final grades. The Toronto District School Board, among others, at first chose not to issue report cards at all and then, perhaps due to pressures from teachers, families and the media, decided to issue these final marks to students and their families. The report cards will not include any comments.

So that brings up the question: what is the point of report cards, anyway? How useful are they? Do the marks tell the story? Do the comments?

When I became a teacher I was excited about creating report cards for my students. I enjoy communicating in writing. It gives me time to consider my message before I speak and to get my ideas across without interruption. I envisioned well-thought out comments that painted a vivid picture of students in their learning environments. And then I discovered teachers were confined to a prescribed set of comments and were merely to pick the most appropriate. There was little wiggle room for my flowing prose to describe the classroom experience. There was a bit more leeway when it came to the “Learning Skills” section, but there were still parameters.

Now, I get that perhaps teachers needed some guidance on report writing and that a free-for-all style would make it difficult to compare reports from different teachers - but a drop down menu of comments? It crushed my poor writer’s heart.

The marks tell some of the story and I guess prepare the students for higher education, in which transcripts don't include a single comment. During elementary school, marks in the A range, mean your child is above the provincial level, marks in the B range mean they meet provincial standard and in the C range tell you your child is falling below the standard. Obviously, each teacher interprets “provincial standard” through their own lens, but there are exemplars and benchmarks available to help standardize the process.

For me, the comments now merely serve as a jumping off point for further communication between parent and teacher. If your child receives a C- in math with a comment that says something like “With support, can interpret data from various charts and graphs.” it means that your child isn’t up to the expected standard of reading graphs. I wish we could just write that on the report card, but alas. I use that “Ministry approved” comment as a topic for our parent-teacher interview. I would say something like, “So, Johnny is having trouble reading graphs.” Then I’d proceed to outline what I think is getting in the way of this skill, what I’ve done to help him master it and how a parent can support at home.

Sure, the current report card comments in Ontario aren’t ideal for really informing families about their child’s progress, which is part of the teachers refusal to write them this year. However, they do provide an outline for greater conversations. If a teacher has concerns about a student’s progression, they should continually be sharing such concerns with parents- long before report time. If parents have concerns they should address them with the teachers. Parents are entitled to open lines of communication with the school, for the entire academic year.

We need report cards, but they are, after all, just a piece of paper - limited in scope and only able to relay a tiny bit of the information needed. 

Yet, whatever the limitations, it sure is nice to have a record of achievement. Schools need to be able to track student performance and have some common language to share this information between teachers, grades and schools. Hopefully soon we will be able to write them in a more direct, meaningful manner. But, until then, I still need something to put in my daughter’s keepsake box. Useful or not, I will still be saving all those bits of paper signifying, "You did it, kid. Job well done!"

 RELATED: Do You Know How To Read Your Child's Report Card?


8 Kid's Authors Who Keep Reading Fun

Captivating Authors Who Keep Your Kid's Attention

8 Kid's Authors Who Keep Reading Fun

There are many children's literature lists out there that focus on classic authors, such as C.S. Lewis and E.B. White.  While those well-loved stories continue to stand the test of time, many kids connect more with more current publications - say, after the invention of the internet.  Check out this list of wonderful authors that may mae you smile and may keep your kids reading.


For the Under Six Set

Every parent knows that this age group loves the familiar - requesting the same book, over and over again until your brain is ready to explode from boredom.  From an educational standpoint, all that repetition is good for them, building a confidence that comes from predictability and growing synapses.  However, that won’t prevent you from wanting to tear your own eyes out on the 700th rendition. You need some authors that will help you through this phase with a little humour and entertainment value.
Author: Karen Katz
Favourite books: Counting Kisses, Where is Baby’s Belly Button?
Why her books are great: Okay, these ones will make you a little stabby around the 656th read through, but luckily your little one will grow out of them before that. Karen Katz books are great for littlest readers.  They are interactive as they involve lifting flaps or kissing your baby’s toes and usually induce those early two-tooth smiles as you share them with the littlest of readers.
Favourite Books: Belly Button Book, Not the Hippopotamus
Why her books are great: All Boynton’s books have a wonderful sense of rhythm and rhyme. The clever wording gets stuck in your head like a pop song, making them easy to recite during boring car journeys. There is a bit of humour and really endearing illustrations in every book. Another bonus? These books are short, wonderfully “please-just-one-more-story” before bedtime short.
Favourite Books: so many, but current faves are Seeing Red and Smelly Socks
Why his books are great: Kids just love these books. Clever wording, entertaining pictures and humorous story lines combine to make Munsch go to in many classrooms and family rooms around the country.  although born and raised in the USA, Munsch is now a Canadian citizen and doing our country proud!
Author: Mo Willems
Favourite Books: Knuffle Bunny, Elephant and Piggie
Why his books are great: Mo Willems makes me laugh. His books are light, fun and downright entertaining. He also uses interesting art techniques for his pictures, such as combining black and white photography with colourful cartoon drawings, giving the reader and their audience lots to look at.

For Ages Six to Nine

Your beginning and middle readers can be a tricky group to please. Sure, you want to instill a love of books, but offer boring or babyish books and your reluctant reader will quickly turn away. For this age group, you need accessible picture books and chapter books that in no way resemble the board books of early childhood.  
Author: Greame Base
Favourite Books: Animalia, The Eleventh Hour
Why his books are great: First, the illustrations (done by Base himself) are stunning. Every picture is bursting with colour and exceptionally detailed.  Secondly, there are always several hidden things to find in each picture, which kids and adults delight in searching for. Often the illustrations contain clues to help the reader solve a mystery. Finally, The stories are most often told in rhyme and contain just enough sophisticated vocabulary to challenge the reader or listener and make them feel a little more “grown up.”
Author: Jon Scieszka
Favourite Books: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Math Curse
Why his books are great: Scieszka’s books often combine educational subject matter (math, science, history concepts) with entertaining and humorous storytelling. These are great books for reluctant readers and often have a particular appeal to boys. I’ve have had great success in my various classrooms engaging less enthusiastic readers with Scieszka.
Favourite Books:  Bad Day at Riverbend, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
Why his books are great: A master of storytelling and illustration, these books are brimming with imagination and wonder. Even if you don’t yet know the books of Allsburg, you will probably recognize his books that have spurned movies, such as Jamanji and The Polar Express. The art work in these picture books appeal to older kids, as there is nothing babyish about them. The stories are filled with adventure and mystery, while remaining charmingly relatable.
Favourite Books: Clementine series and Flat Stanley series
Why her books are great: Novels for the early readers, these books are easy enough to make a young reader feel confident, but packaged as a chapter book for a more mature feel. The characters are relatable and funny. There are just enough pictures included in the books to add to the fun factor. Plus, series are great because if your child loves them, the next book makes an easy gift idea for the next occasion.
What authors are your family favourites?  Who would you add to this list?
Have older kids? Watch out for my next post listing great authors for tweens and teens.