It is the time of year when many make fearless predictions about the school year ahead. The news is full of “must have” lists for the fall — from clothing to technology. Let me join the chorus of those making grand proclamations and say that this school year is setting up to be “the year of the report card.”
There are many issues to pick from in BC. It is always easy to say labour issues will dominate the news and education conversations, but we are in the midst of quite a large transformation in BC and it is a moveable feast. Some of the items that I think will make news this year include:
Curriculum — There will be drafts of a new K-9 curriculum in seven areas: English Language Arts, Francais Langue, Arts Education, Math, Science, Social Studies and Health and Physical Education. In the past, curriculum had been on long cycles with one or two new curriculums released each year. This year, we will see drafts of all of these documents in the fall with the promise of other grades to follow.
Provincial Assessment — An advisory group which began their work in spring 2013, led by the Education Deans from SFU and UBC, will conclude their work this fall. Their recommendations could lead to changes with long-standing programs including FSAs and the Grade 10-12 government program exams.
Graduation Program — Last year, there was a province-wide consultation regarding the graduation program, which will continue to be refined this fall. By spring 2014, we might see recommendations for changes to the current program.
And those three “meaty” items are just the beginning. There will be more discussion and piloting of special education innovation projects, on improving Aboriginal education, the ongoing focus on bullying through ERASE, sustained efforts with early reading, and a lot about skills and trades programs.
So with all of that, why “the year of the report card?”
While some of the other topics can quickly become philosophical or “edu-speak”, everyone (students, parents, educators, community) understands report cards. There are few things more core to education than report cards. Report cards are also a symbol of “the system.” In many ways, report cards have not changed much for our kids than from those their parents received. Three times a year, a brown envelope goes home with brief comments on a student’s success in prescribed areas; for older students, a series of numbers and letters quantify the most recent term. Parents read and re-read each comment for insight, meaning, and possibly comparing the letters and numbers to those of the neighbours’ kids as well.
But something is happening . . .
As schools change, and our beliefs about learning evolve, a lot of people are asking about report cards. In BC, some people are not simply talking about report cards, they’re doing something about them. In Maple Ridge- Pitt Meadows, for example:
Elementary school teachers . . . will no longer be required to grade students with an A, C+ or D. Wednesday, the local school board approved a new elementary reporting alternate option, termed a student-inclusive conferencing model. It will see teachers meet with students and parents to discuss progress, and an increased emphasis on student self-assessment. . . . Committee members developed a process intended to open dialogue between parent, child and teacher. The conferences celebrate strengths, talk about learning needs, and set future goals. The report is filled out in a more consultative process. The committee members say it has an obvious effect on young learners. “Even our kindergarten students are setting goals for themselves,” said Vandergugten. “And not a single parent asked for a letter grade. No longer are they an A, B or C student.”
Maple-Ridge – Pitt Meadows, is not the only place seriously looking at report cards. These conversations are happening in schools across the province, and I am also hearing more questions from our own staff and parents. And they are good questions — If what we know about assessment has changed, shouldn’t how we report change with it? As new curriculum is introduced, should we continue to report on the same areas as we have in the past? With all of our technology, is there not a better way to give timely information than through a paper report card three times a year?
Reports from the schools and districts that have made the change have been very positive; there has been a great response from students, parents and staff. But then there is the other side of the discussion, like “I did just fine with report cards with letter grades so why change for my kids?” It is actually an excellent discussion. As we continue to look at report cards, we talk about what we value, how and what we assess and what content is most important. We also talk about the balance between some standard benchmarks for students and personalized learning.
I have shared some thinking on this before, in some of my parenting wishes for my child’s schooling. There is more constructive work we can do, starting at the elementary level, to de-emphasize the ranking and sorting, increase the self-assessment and goal setting, and to find new models that will make the “reporting” more timely, thoughtful, relevent and learning-focussed.
Talking about report cards is simple, and the reason why I think they will be such a hot topic this year. We have all received them and we all have stories about and experiences with them. But the beauty of the discussion is lying just below the surface of a rich discussion on learning and the school system we want for our kids.