Traditional Report Cards Are Obsolete


Screen shot 2017-03-01 at 12.26.09 PM.pngDepending on where a person teaches, a school district can dictate how often report cards and progess reports will be distributed to students and parents to “communicate learning” and keep families abreast of what is happening in the classroom.

However, the idea of what report cards are and what they actually do is fatally flawed from the beginning.

Communication about learning needs to be ongoing in a meaningful way and paper report cards being mailed home or sent home with students or uploaded onto an online portal as a PDF a few times a year just doesn’t cut it.

Aside from the infrequency of sharing, the content shared is often out of date and/or not a good representation of what students know and can do.

For example, in high school, each subject teacher gets one line to present a letter grade or a number grade (sometimes without any kind of precision or explanation as to what the criteria is) and up to three pre-written comment codes to help explain the grade. Often, these pre-written comments don’t have anything to do with quality of work or skill level, but focus on behavior and compliance.

There are other pieces of information that can be provided such as number of absences and/or midterm or final exam grades.

The act of sharing information isn’t the issue, it’s what we share and how we share it. Many elementary schools use standards based report cards now that focus more heavily on skill mastery and narratives written by the teacher. This is an effective means of communication, but it only happens three times a year in many schools.

There are also parent/teacher conferences, but these conferences often just review the report card rather than go deeper and share more important information that can really help students grow as learners. Ironically, many times the students are not even involved in these conversations which takes the most important factor out of the equation.

Many online systems now make it possible for teachers and schools to share information with parents and students regularly keeping families in the loop about learning, often assignment by assignment with narrative feedback. There are many iterations of how this can happen, but we need to be asking ourselves more importantly what and why we are communicating.

In an ideal world, teachers would be empowering students regularly with feedback that isn’t aligned with grades but rather with mastery standards, offering multiple opportunities for growth.

Here are things we can do differently today:

  • Stop putting grades on everything students turn in. We can provided actual actionable feedback without labeling the quality of it with a quantity.
  • Offer more opportunities for students to get feedback from peers and from the teacher.
  • Invite parents to be a part of the process and involve them in the learning in an on-going way by making out of school learning an integral part of the practice we do every day.
  • Teach students the language of the standards and be transparent in what and why they are learning different skills and content. Make sure the reason isn’t because it’s on a test.
  • Have students reflecting regularly so you can get a fuller read on how much they are actually learning. Often their work and performance won’t tell the whole story.
  • Include students in the conversation about their learning by conferring with them regularly and providing feedback for growth.
  • Allow students to be involved in the assessment process, so they can choose how and what they are learning.
  • Be clear about success criteria and help students understand where they measure up.
  • Truly listen to students and be flexible that learning happens at different paces for everyone and often in different ways.

When we think about preparing students for the world we live in, accountability is important, but teaching students to be accountable in a way that works for them that also helps us know where we need to adjust practice to better suit their needs.

Report cards were a solution once that probably made some form of communication easier. However, the kind of communication it fosters sends the wrong message about what learning should be. As we shift the mindset about learning, we also have be mindful about the subconscious messages we send systemically about what learning actually is.

How can you better communicate with students and families about student learning that makes the outcome more meaningful? Please share


Teach Students to Break Down Criteria for Success


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As a general rule, I front load my units/projects by previewing and discussing the end product first and then using the following weeks to provide instruction and practice to ensure success criteria.

Since we’re starting our new unit now, we’ve been spending time looking at the assessment, modifying it together and now discussing how students can find success with the skills being assessed.

Rather than just provide a rubric and a sample, students were split up into groups focusing on a particular standard.

Students needed to review the assignment (which they annotated yesterday) and the rubric and align past learning with the standard they were responsible for.

Each group made a chart and shared out around the room. Students then were asked to take pictures of each of the charts and return to their seats.Screen shot 2016-12-20 at 11.12.44 AM.png

As they worked together to determine what success will look like and why they were working on these skills, I walked around the room answering questions and listening to their conversations.

After we shared out and developed a list of skills from the standards, students were asked to answer an exit ticket (that was emailed to them) that asked the following:

Exit ticket:

Based on the success criteria established and the work we’ve done in class thus far, what skills and/or content do you feel you’re already proficient in or mastering? How do you know? Which areas do you feel you need the most help with? What lessons will you need to find success?

1. What skills and/or content do you feel you’re already proficient in or mastering?
2. How do you know?
3.  What areas do you feel you need the most help with?
4. What lessons would be helpful to find success?
Thanks! Make sure to check your email and “pupilpath” regularly for feedback.
Right after class, I read their emails and provide them feedback as well as gather data to align my mini-lessons to ensure success for all. Number four is of particular use to me, asking students to identify areas of need. This is essential to helping them reflect and be more metacognative. The better informed they are about their own learning, strengths and challenges, the better they can get their needs met and I can be helpful in how that happens.
Students need to know what is being assessed, so they can name and understand what they are learning and more importantly why. In this way they can start to connect their learning to real skills that will be of use to them in the future.

Can You Be Convinced to Change Your Grading Policy?

Ed Week

0awhataretheimportant0acomponents0aofagradingpolicy3f0a0a28check29-default.pngMany of our practices are ingrained in us since long before we were teachers. Many began to set in our early formative years, sitting in classrooms taking in our own learning experiences.

Those of us who loved school, enjoyed the learning and the game of it. The accolades and challenges inherent in a broad academic program meant to push us into readiness for college or life.

As an overachiever, the deep satisfaction I got in receiving As or 90s or whatever the highest in my class were, was unmatched by few other things.

I hated group work because I was often at the front of it doing everything, denying my classmates the chance to even try. I loathed the injustice of other students who clearly didn’t try as hard as I had and still managed to get decent grades even though they didn’t follow the “rules” at all.

So when I became a teacher, I knew the type I’d be. I knew the kids I’d like. I knew what my expectations and goals would inspire.

Or so I thought.

In the beginning, I took points off for everything. Rather than offer students positive experiences for growth, I penalized them for everything and I proudly wore my failure rate on my sleeve. “This time 30% of them failed because they couldn’t keep up.” Like this was some kind of evidence of the rigor of my space.

But I was so wrong.

This idea about learning and assessing didn’t inspire children, it stifled them. Fortunately, I had great rapport with my students and they desperately didn’t want to disappoint me, so they worked hard for me, even if I wasn’t working hard enough for them.

8 years into my career and I realized everything I was doing was wrong.

All it took was the right reading material, Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes For Broken Grades. It was the first pedagogical book I had read that really made me question my practices. Feeling ashamed by what I had done to students, I started implementing change immediately.

Starting with one class at a time, I shifted what achievement meant and allowed students to really be a part of the process.

It took time and work, but I’ve moved to the other end of the spectrum. School is no longer about playing a game or rewarding or taking points. Learning is about mastery; developing skills to become more adept and inspired to continue to grow.

These are the key things that have changed:

  • Tests are no longer used as a punishment to catch kids who didn’t listen. As a matter of fact, tests are barely given at all
  • There is no extra credit given to “raise averages”
  • There is no homework that counts against students – only practice that supports learning for students who need it
  • Class time is spent actually doing – a student centered classroom, no longer a teacher centered space
  • Learning is project/problem based
  • Kids have the opportunity to revise all work for better understanding and growth
  • Reflection is an essential part of student learning
  • Students are partners in their learning, setting grades and tracking progress
  • Self-assessment is at the heart of all we do.
  • Group work is no longer graded as 1 product… each child reflects and shares what he or she learned against standards and that is what determines their learning.
  • Feedback is provided throughout the process, not just at the end and it seen as a growth opportunity.
  • Students have input as to how they get their feedback and how they learn.
  • Students have input into everything.

Since these changes have been made, my students are enjoying learning more and they have much more specific sense of how they are doing in the classes. No more, “what did I get on that?”

Are you ready to change your grading policy? Maybe it’s time. What’s the first thing that would go? Please share