Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sriving for mediocrity?

I’m not particularly fond of the new report cards the girls brought home this term. The school division invested a whole truckload of money in a new reporting system, and in my humble opinion, they could have left their money in the bank.

When I look over Nikki and Julie’s report cards (that came home in fancy expensive folders with high-end brochures to explain them), you could swear they are almost identical girls. Anyone who knows them can vouch for the fact that they are NOT. Yet, the report cards reveal so little real information, I’m sure 95% of the students in the school come out looking like cookie cutter models of each other.

One of the reasons for the change is to separate their academic achievement from their social skills. On the front of the report card, there are about 10 boxes related to their social/interpersonal levels. These boxes are marked with an “M” for “meets expectations” or a “D” for “developing”. I suppose they were trying to move away from levels (excellent, good, fair, etc.), so that young students won’t feel overly judged or categorized, but to me, it just means that all students come out homogenous. Where is the motivation to work hard, if you come out looking like every other student? It’s not working for me.

On the back, where they focus on academics, they have no quantitative marking system whatsoever. Instead, they just have comment boxes, that include so much rhetoric, my head began to spin. “Nicole has a grasp on mathematical concepts.” “Julie can process information successfully.” What does that MEAN?

I don’t know much about child psychology or educational models or formative or summative marking systems (Marcel used those last words – apparently he’s learning something in all those university classes he’s taking!), but I do know that both Nikki and Julie were disappointed with their report cards. It was clear that neither of them feel motivated to work harder if there isn’t some indication that their efforts are worth it. Are we encouraging our kids to strive for mediocrity?

Nikki was particularly disappointed. She said to me a few weeks ago, “Mom, you know how my first report card of the year is always a little lower than the ones later in the year? Well, this year, I think it will be better, because I’m doing really well this year.” She has a new-found confidence about school, (which makes me so happy, because I’ve wiped away too many tears in the past) but I wouldn’t say that these report cards did anything to feed that confidence.

Julie, on the other hand, is a gifted student who told me the other day that she has never made a spelling mistake on a test (she’s in grade 4). It’s probably true, though I can’t verify it. This is the kid who devours books – reads one almost every night from cover to cover. Few things challenge her academically. Yet, if you read her report card, you’d think she was an average student.

Anyone care to comment? I know there are some educators who read this – perhaps you have some insight that I’m missing. Perhaps report cards really aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things. Who knows?


Linda said...

That's a tough one Heather. I agree with what you say. I saw Joey and Micah's reports which I'm sure look just like Nikki's and Julie's. When I saw those glossy folders trying to explain these so called report cards, I thought that money could have been better spent.

Anonymous said...

Don't even get me started on the personal monogramming. I'm writing a letter about that.


tlawwife said...

It is common knowledge in the education area that trends come and go. Every few years they throw everything out and get something new (which is usually not new just revamped with different words). When my children were in elementary school and I was running for the school board I sat in on a discussion of weather the kindergarten should have pass fail or letter grades. One man on the board actually said, "I want everyone to know that my daughter is better than theirs". That was a good argument for pass fail! However when you give pass fail type of things there is no way to know if your child is excelling. That is important to know also.

Currently I am in a school district that is dealing with parents who want us to lower our standards so that their children will look better. I contend that teachers know what kind of work is excellent and what is not so their children won't look any better they will just get less help.

I do think that grades are important as long as they are used in context. We do not get social things on reports here after kindergarten so I could not comment on that, although when I went to parent teacher conferences that is what I wanted to know.

Sorry it is long. but you asked.:)

Hope said...

In both my kids elementary schools, they used the Excellent,Good ,Satisfactory,Needs improvement system, for both academics and social skills. There were abundant comments, as well as curiculuum expectations provided.
This year, we have marks.... the black and white 79%, with all assignments broken down with marks and weight.Social skills are rated as E,G,S and NI
We have the benefit of small school, good communication.

Pamela said...

It is too bad that kids can't have pride in getting good grades.

(when I was a kid, I'd get a spanking if I brought home bad grades... now that was some motivation!)

VAIL said...

Where I live in North Carolina our public elementary schools get 1, 2, 3 or 4's on school work and report cards.
3 is "performing at grade level". 4 is "did work above grade level" and is VERY rarely given/not all assignments can even get a 4 and is not used on report cards. 2 is "needs improvement" and 1 is - "just not getting it". So, a 3 is the equivalent of an "A", "B" or "C".
I find it very frustrating, hard to judge how my child is really doing (we get very little work sent home - they keep it there in folders). I don't care how my child is doing in relation to others - I just want to keep up with their progress and if they are a "C" student then I would know to spend more time with them to get them up to an "A" student.