Report Cards - What Do They Mean?

November 14, 2014 - 12:32pm Updated: November 15, 2014 - 10:22am

It’s that time of year again when report cards are being prepared and parents learn about their children’s achievements in the first three months of the academic year.

Many teachers have known students in their classes for just three months and need to assess their performance with a hint of their academic future for the rest of the year. Then there’s the discussion that arises about the value of assessments in the form of rubrics or percentages.  This more often than not ends on a controversial note. Where both forms of assessments should be seen as guides and supports for students in their learning journey, percentages are required in the senior years for scholarship applications and entrance to post-secondary institutions.

One can only imagine the challenges educators might face in penning remarks on performance.  It helps to always keep in mind that these assessments are a guide and not to be perceived as an end in itself.  If you are a parent who takes a keen interest in your child’s learning or you are able to guide your child through their learning, there is much more that you probably know about potential and performance of your child at any point in time.

Assuming that children are well nourished, sleeping adequately, have living conditions conducive to learning, and live in stable family units there are a few other questions I would ask as a parent if I find a disconnect between the report and my perception of my child’s performance.

I would ask questions such as:

  • Might there be a learning disability?
  • Are there areas of work that posed a problem that were not addressed?
  • Is there anything in school affecting performance such as bullying, dynamics in peer groups, or a teacher-student personality mismatch?  These are issues that need to be addressed as they are often improved with dialogue and working through options.

However, if the aforementioned factors are in place, there are deeper questions I would ask.

 An important question to consider is whether my child is engaged in their own learning.

Adam Fletcher, a researcher says, “Students are engaged when they are attracted to their work, persist despite challenges and obstacles, and take visible delight in accomplishing their work.” There has to be a purpose and sense of identity and belonging to what is being learned. Children are often disengaged in activities that are not meaningful learning experiences leading to boredom and frustration. Students who have teachers who are passionate about what they teach will feel the passion for learning. In situations where 'educator passion' is absent, educators need to find what ignites in a student.

Another crucial question to consider is whether my child is challenged to learn something interesting and new. A misconception is that learners must be kept within a level of ‘their ability’ to complete tasks. They lack the challenge they need to be engaged and increasingly successful. This reminds me of a story my colleague told me about when she was in school in England. Her report card stated, “Good on the whole.” Her burly no-nonsense father marched to school and asked the teacher, “so, when are you going to get her off the whole?”  Children perform poorly because they lack the stimulation and challenge. This is a process that needs to be addressed, and parental involvement in this should not be underestimated.

Above all, we must keep in mind what Jonathan Kozol said in the early 1990’s, “the voices of children, frankly, have been missing from the whole discussion.” More than two decades after this statement, we must remember to include the voices of children.  


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