In the standards based classroom, learning is the focus, but at the end of the marking period come the ‘all important’ grades. In many districts, there are semester and quarter systems, so grades are officially reported twice or four times per year. Each class or subject area gets a letter grade and frequently there is a bank of canned comments from which to choose ‘narrative’ feedback for our students.
In my humble opinion, this is not enough information. We should be reporting so much more than a letter and a comment code. What does that letter even signify? Has the teacher or school defined the purpose and meaning of that grade? What if a student doesn’t fit into the mold of the predetermined comments?
Of course we can always call our parents and talk with our students to give more information and feedback, but I feel that our report cards are lacking. They can do a much better job communicating academic achievement, process (behaviors), as well as growth. In my standards based classroom, I send out an additional report to parents and students each semester. It separates out these three important areas for communication and really puts some meaning behind the word report.
For academic achievement, I separate my letter grade into four skill based strands. I teach Spanish, so these strands are listening, speaking, reading, and writing. I use a four point scale in my classroom, and each of these strands is reported using that scale. I also give the overall letter grade (although I wish I didn’t have to), using a conversion chart. This letter grade is given in regard to academic achievement only. You may be wondering, ‘Where are the standards?’ The standards are in my computerized grade book. Each standard gets scored on the four point scale and is available for parents and students at any time.
We have to walk a fine line with these reports – we don’t want to give too little information (just a letter grade), or too much information (reporting on each standard). Parents want information, but if they are inundated with too much, they will be turned off to the report. I choose not to report on each individual standard for this reason. I group them into strands, and the individual scores are always available online.
In the same fashion, I group process (behavior) reporting by strand. I find that reporting behaviors separately from achievement and growth is much more powerful than lumping them in along with the academic grade. When parents and students get meaningful feedback on specific behavior it is immensely more productive than not knowing how much of a letter grade is behaviors and work habits vs. achievement.
Growth is my final area of reporting. I report growth using narrative feedback. This is a personal choice, and there are definitely other effective ways of reporting growth. If I reported growth numerically, I would be back to putting every single standard on the report and again I don’t want to the reports to get cumbersome. I track growth throughout the semester and can give parents and students any specific information when requested.
These reports take some work on my part to put together each semester and send home, but I know it is worth the effort. My parents and students are much better informed about their current levels of achievement, process, and growth in my class. They can identify areas of mastery and opportunities for improvement. They know what their academic grade means and get valuable feedback. And they may not take as much time as you think because all the time spent combining these three areas, figuring out points, and calculating weights can be put into reporting them separately!
Although we work to be in touch frequently with all of our parents, the reality is that for some the report card is the ultimate communication tool. If this is the case, shouldn’t we do everything in our power to make it informative and productive?