education, learning, pairadimes, Pedegogy, reflection, restructuring

Marking What Counts and Reporting on Report Cards

Just because something can be counted,
doesn’t mean it counts,
and just because something is difficult to count,
doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.”
In my first year of teaching, another first year teacher on my team, Ken Andrews, designed a marking system for Humanities (English and Social Studies combined). In his system students chose projects based on which outcomes they most needed to demonstrate. Like all teachers, he had assignments based on the curriculum and prescribed learning outcomes (PLO’s), and then during the year he would have ‘choice’ projects. The means of output/presentation were determined by a student’s need to demonstrate skills they had not shown yet, or that they were still developing. Ken had 4 or 5 categories based on the PLO’s, and to give you an idea of how this worked, some students might have had to do an oral presentation whereas another might have needed to write an essay, and still another student might have had to write something creative as their choice project. Without going into greater detail, he basically followed the notion of:

Not counting marks,
but marking what counts.
Ken Andrews

As we start to look at different skills, 21st Century Skills, and get kids thinking beyond what is on the test, it gets harder to mark what really counts. Report cards will have to change as our assessment does. How valuable is it to measure a student’s ability to solve a Numeracy Task? How do you weight this evaluation next to quiz and test marks that are based on a student’s ability to follow the steps in adding fractions, or their ability to follow the algorithm for solving an algebra equation? What about their ability to Synthesize and Add Meaning to what they know?

These are questions I am grappling with on a number of levels… but while I think about these things, the reality of having to write report cards is still there. After just completing my second term report cards, I have been thinking of the changes that I have helped to make on our district’s middle school report cards. They don’t directly address my concerns above, but the changes have created an opportunity to look at learning skills as much as we do marks… I think this is a step in the right direction

Report Cards. They can be a challenge! Especially for teachers in our school where, in the last 6 report card periods over the last 2 years, we have had 6 different report cards with different formats.

We’ve been a pilot school for the District Middle School Report Card. As a member of the Learning Team in charge of this, we instituted the Learning Skills section seen here, from our first term report card last year.

Learning Skills for 'Marking What Counts...' post

It wasn’t perfect but it was a chance to say a bit more about a student than a simple work habit evaluation of G, S,or N (Good, Satisfactory, or Needs Improvement).

With hindsight being 20/20, I now wonder how we could have included some 21st Century Skills into these learning skills? Of course then we would need to ensure that all students were given the opportunity to develop those skills.

The idea behind these Learning Skills was a driving force of what we as not only teachers, but also as parents, wanted to see on a report card. A theme that kept coming up was that we wanted to know that the teacher knew or understood who our kid is! We also wanted to know what areas of learning we, as parents, could help with at home.

We changed the evaluative language from G, S, and N to M-Mastering, D– Developing and E– Emerging. This has subsequently been changed back. I like the more positive description of M, E, and D, but that’s also partially because it signaled a difference in approach from the umbrella term of Work Habits we used to have on our report cards, and also because I think that the old scale carried a bit too much baggage with it. “How does it look when I give a grade of an ‘A’ with an ‘S’ for work habits?” (My response is that what it looks like doesn’t matter! Add an anecdotal comment to explain this.) However, it seemed to me that students who get an ‘A’ and who are still ‘Emerging’ in certain learning skills would have very appropriate feedback if his report card mentioned this. I’ll stab at a more humourous aspect of this after looking at where we are now.

Our district rolled this report out for our first term this year.

Dec. 06 Report Card

It was to be… “The last format we are going to work with”… but it wasn’t. Three key flaws to our design: 1. Teachers hated the Learning Skills; 2. Teachers of individual courses did not have a say regarding behavior and/or work habits in their individual classes;and, 3. Students portray these skills, or lack thereof, quite differently from class to class/teacher to teacher.

What I really hated was the drop-down menu for Social Responsibility, now mandatory for us to report on. Here are the options from the drop-down menu from which we were (and still are) to choose from:

Social Responsibility Drop-down Menu On our current Report Card cover page it states,

Social Responsibility is reported on in one or more of the following areas: contributing to the classroom and school community, solving problems in peaceful ways, valuing diversity and defending human rights, and exercising democratic rights and responsibilities.”

Even with student input, I found these difficult to use for all but the most inclusive/cooperative students. The menu is based on the BC (Provincial) Performance Standards for Social Responsibility (find the rubric here). Although I like the rubric and use it for students to reflect on, I think the drop-down menu needs to be revised to make the comments more meaningful to students, teachers, and parents. (I couldn’t imagine putting, “tends to be egocentric, apathetic, feel powerless” on a student’s report card!) There is a 65 character space also provided for further explanation by the teacher.

Also from our report card cover we have an explanation of the Learning Skills. For the Term 1 report above the 5 skill areas were simply identified as learning skills, (including social responsibility) whereas there is greater detail in this term’s new cover page, (with Social Responsibility being separated out, as described above). Notice the combining of the learning skills from the Term 1 report:

Acknowledging the development needs of early adolescents, Learning Skills are reported on as: Work Habits & Effort, along with Behavior & Attitude.
Work Habits & Effort relate to completing work on time, coming to class prepared, asking for help when needed, seeking appropriate challenges, and putting forth a best effort.
Behavior & Attitude refer to being respectful towards peers and adults, adjusting behavior to suit various situations, making positive, independent decisions and working with an appropriate level of supervision.

Older report cards simply had ‘work habits’ to encompass all of these. Before I say that ‘I really like this new format’, let me say that after our school learning team ended last year and I have had nothing to do with these new changes, so this isn’t a case of me tooting my own horn.

I really like this new format! Work Habits & Effort fit well together, as do Behavior & Attitude. Yes a student could have poor work habits and still put in a great effort, or have a great attitude and still be a behavior issue, but these difference can easily be touched on in the anecdotal section of the report card. The separation of work habits from behavior is the most noticeable change for me. As a parent I think this information is much more meaningful, and as a teacher I feel that I can better inform parents as to where I see areas of need and, hopefully as the year progresses, areas of growth.
Also, now the kid with an ‘A’ in a class but with both Satisfactory Work Habits & Effort as well as a Satisfactory Behavior & Attitude can be referred to as an “A with a double S” 🙂

Here is this term’s report card. Due to the unexpected change we were told that we did not have to go back and re-fill in the grades/skills for Term 1. This would have been a little challenging and time consuming since we’d have to combine the learning skills that we originally looked at separately.

Term 2 Report Card March 2007

Technology will make this format for a report card easier, as time progresses. The technology is indeed already present, but the pace of adoption is painfully slow. Currently we are using a word document and that has limitations. Soon this will be an on-line document that all teachers can access. Soon we will add some 21st Century Skills to the fray… and hopefully soon we can have a report card version that we can use for more than one term!What would a perfect report card look like?

What skills would it measure? How will it measure Learning Skills and/or 21st Century Skills?

What needs to change so that we are more effective at marking what counts rather than just counting marks?

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New Voices #4 of 7: Check out Dan Meyer’s dy/dan blog, specifically his post How Math Must Assess which relates very specifically to my topic, marking what counts. I also like his post Why I Don’t Assign Homework… a must read, whether you agree or not!

Originally posted: March 11th, 2007

Reflection upon re-reading and re-posting:

I was disappointed with the move back to G, S and N rather than M, D and E… but that is just systemic as to the resistance to change often seen in education.

We can’t fundamentally change our report cards in a truly meaningful way until we change what we consider important first. However, assessment itself is the greatest impediment to meaningful change in education. Standardized tests are about ‘counting marks’ NOT ‘marking what counts’.

Here is a recent video version of my sound file linked above to ‘beyond what is on the test’.