Today was the first day back from our Thanksgiving vacation. For some this day is marked by reconnecting with friends and colleagues, return to the routine, thoughts of the next holiday and even some friendly banter about trips and achievements. For me, today and this week represent a whole lot of reading…’cause it’s report card time! At some other point I’ll discuss the goals, values and reasons around report cards and the dilemma I find myself in when I think about those things. For now, I wanted to share some of the strategies that I use and have been developed with a lot of feedback and input from colleagues.
Read ‘em all…every single one
If it’s going home to families, I’m going to read it. That’s the general rule. This has nothing to do with a lack of trust. Our staff is extremely competent in communications with home. No, the need and importance of reading everything that’s sent home at this time of year is to have a sense of what is happening. As you are reading through report cards, comments, scores, etc. you start to understand the “status” of life at your school. You can see trends that you might not otherwise have picked up on, see a student or educator that may need some support, be able to provide some insight that may have been missed by others…all sorts of great stuff.
Provide a Timeline
Way in advance we give a heads up to staff about report cards…all the little details about when they are due, when the attendance will be added, who and how the printing will happen, etc. That way there is less confusion during the week they are produced.
We set up a flow of the information for staff as well. There are a lot of people involved in the report card process at our school. You have unified arts teachers (P.E., music, art) that input grades and comments for every student, special educators and associated special education teams, behavioral specialist, guidance counselors and more…all putting information into one document. The understanding we’ve put into place after much trial and error is that all of these folks should work together prior to report cards being submitted to me for review. In other words, special educators meet with classroom teachers at the beginning of the report card process to convey information about students rather than waiting until after the teacher has completed a draft of the report card…smarter not harder. That way the copy that I’m reviewing has been through the various members of the team and represents the most up-to-date copy of the report card. In previous years we had several people looking at final drafts at once and it really didn’t provide teachers with timely or manageable feedback. This simplified expectation is much better.
I would also add, if possible, provide time for staff to do this work. That might be in the form of time to meet with each other and discuss particular students and/or the actual report card input process.
Make ‘em simple and easy to remember:
- No Surprises - I always encourage that there should be no surprises for parents on the report card. If a scholar is struggling a parent should not find out from the report card. That information should already be in play with parents.
- 1 or 2, Comment Too – Our report cards are based on a 1, 2, 3 and 4 system (see below). Simple rule…if you are reporting a lower score in an area there absolutely needs to be a comment or reference to it as well.
4 = Exceeds the Grade Level Expectation for this time of year.
Student understands the concept or process and can extend, generalize, and apply it to new learning.
3 = Meets the Grade Level Expectation for this time of year.
Student understands and consistently and independently applies all concepts as well as communicates them with confidence.
2 = Approaching the Grade Level Expectation for this time of year.
Student understands some of the concepts and can complete tasks with assistance.
1 = Skill is not Demonstrated.
Student makes attempt but shows little understanding.
- Remember Your Audience – Remember that you’re sharing information with families. Avoiding eduspeak (or at least explaining it as you go) is important. Parents are looking for personal connections, not a data print out…give strategies, share successes. Make it important and helpful!
Set Up a System of Timely, Manageable Feedback
It took a while, but using various technologies we’ve found a nice method of reviewing the documents.
- Staff enter their report card information into our student data management system
- Using Notability, I review the PDF version of a teacher’s report cards. With Notability I’m able to hand-write comments and questions directly onto a PDF of that classes report cards.
- I then email the copy (or share in a shared doc) that I’ve marked on to the teacher directly for review. Using a simple red, yellow and green color coded system I share:
- Green – commendations (I always find great strategies, methods and ideas from report card review. I think it’s important to recognize good stuff)
- Yellow – questions (I might have a question about the wording of something, or ask a question about what I can do to support something. A yellow comment doesn’t require an edit or change, but might be the start of a conversation)
- Red – Suggested Edit (This may require an action or a follow up before the report card is printed and sent. Usually these are few and far between and might be a typo that was missed, might be a rewording or adjustment to a comment or might be a need for additional information.
4. Follow up with individual teachers about anything on the report cards.
I take about three or four days total to read through every report card, special education narrative, preschool reports, etc. and provide feedback to everyone. Admittedly, I did not always do such a thorough job of this; however, as we started to develop a better system of review, staff shared how thankful they were for the support, recognition and recommendations. After I’ve reviewed all of these I make careful notes about trends, recommended practices that I found successful and individual student and/or teacher questions that I need to follow up on. It’s been a very important practice that is worth taking the time to do…even if I don’t get out and about much for those four days!