Report Cards 101

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BY: KATHY MCDONALD 

It’s hard to believe that January is but a distant memory and February is marching on. By the end of the week, most kids in the province of Ontario would have received their report cards. Parents do you know what triangulating data, accountable talk or success criteria is? Teaching practices have evolved and are changing rapidly. The assessment that we received when we were in school is going the way of the dodo bird. So, this column is intended to equip you to fully understand your child’s report card and the questions you should be asking their teachers.

Teachers are evaluating students work daily. They are assessing your child’s work for learning, assessing for evidence of learning and using assessment as learning. In days gone by, when teachers assigned homework, students were graded on the project or homework that was turned in. As every parent who has sat up late at nights doing the “finishing touches” on their child’s project or homework will attest, they are often left with a feeling of disbelief when the project is returned with a less than stellar grade. Oh, the blow to one’s ego! I have heard parents say “How could I get such a low grade for my project!

The standard test grade is no longer the only benchmark used to determine student success. The triangulation of data is often used for assessment as learning. The aforementioned term refers to the practice of observing, conversing and examining the work produced by the student. These three indicators are used to help determine what learning has occurred. Rote learning and regurgitation and worksheets are no longer the primary tools used to assess students. The modern learner is assessed when the teacher observes what the student is doing around their learning as well as by the conversations that occurs with the teacher. The final product is important, but the student is required to demonstrate an understanding of the final product. For example, when learning about shapes a student may be required not only to know the name of the shape but may be required to produce the shape using manipulatives and explain their thinking. Evidence of a student’s learning could be captured by video or pictures. They may be documented by anecdotes or electronic recordings. As a parent you are well within your right to ask for evidence of your child’s learning.

Quite often students’ work is assessed as learning. This happens during the lesson.  Learning is happening continuously and so should assessment. The onus is on teachers to create learning goals. Students should know these learning goals. The success criteria should be co-created with the students. By this I mean the students must be active participants in their learning and monitor their progress. Students are expected to be able to check off, for example, three things that they have done to show that they understand what a Venn diagram is. Remember, these three criteria were co-created with the student. Timely teacher feedback is critical as students navigate the lesson. The assessment of learning usually has a final culminated task to find out what they have learned. A principal should be able to ask a student what the learning goals are and the student should be able to list all the criteria met. This is called “accountable talk”.

When educators assess a student’s work for learning what they are in fact doing is trying to determine what the gaps are in the student’s learning. After carefully assessing the prescribed assignment a teacher may tailor a lesson to address any overarching needs that are uncovered during the assessment. For example, when teachers are beginning the school year or a new lesson, they might give all students an assignment to complete to get a sense of where the students are in their understanding of the topic. No grade is assigned. Rather valuable information is collected from such assessments and the information often reveals what the students don’t know. Such information can be invaluable and should play an important role in helping to develop future lessons.

The six learning skills; responsibility, organization, independent work, collaboration, initiative, and self-regulation are critical for student success. They are disciplines created through these skills, to enhance student success. The comments are also very important. Make sure you understand each comment. Comments like “Student must do better.” is unacceptable. Ask for clarification. Comments should be specific and should highlight learning gaps. Comments should indicate how you, as a parent, could support your child’s learning. It would be prudent to discuss the expectation you have for your child and how it can align with that of the teacher’s.

Guardians you could visit www.edu.gov.on.ca and read the Growing Success document that explains how Ontario schools assess, evaluate and report the progress of their students. If your child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), review it with the teacher. Whether teachers are trying to determine a student’s entry point as they evaluate a student’s work for learning or whether a teacher is triangulating data; parents need to be active participants in their child’s learning. I strongly encourage all caregivers to have frank and respectful conversations with your child’s teacher. There should be no surprises when you open that envelope and read your child’s report card. So, journey with me as we try to ensure that each child’s educational needs are met.

Walk Good. Belle Marché.

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