Communicating standards-based learning and grading was the topic of this week’s #sblchat. Question 6 asked participants, “What should be included on a standards-based report card?” The image above captured my initial response, and sparked some personal reflection.
I was reminded of the memorable day when my son returned home from another grueling week of 4K. He had survived the first quarter of his educational career and now it was time to unseal the envelope of truth–the report card. Having sent thousands of grades home to parents throughout my career, I thought I was equipped for this moment–my first experience as a parent receiving a student report card. Intense.
And there it was. A clear checklist of objectives my son had mastered at or beyond grade level. Good kid. Relief.
But wait. Naturally, my attention shifted to two “Not Yet” marks. Allegedly, my son had yet to master tying his shoes and cutting with scissors. The mild-mannered teacher in me transformed into a Hulk-like beast–a defensive parent. How dare this teacher accuse me of failing to prepare my first-born for the expectations of 4K? Surely, my son had successfully used scissors at home. And why didn’t anyone tell me he needed to know how to tie his shoes at this level of education?
Once Phase I (defensive, narrow-minded, fixed on the negative) passed, I moved on to Phase II: consider the evidence and be a proactive parent. Rational…check. We practiced tying shoes–one of the countless, precious father-son moments. After some rehearsal, the milestone was conquered. My boy learned to tie shoelaces. He strutted into his classroom the next morning and presented this new talent to his teacher–and even used double-knots. Impressive.
I was more perplexed by the scissors issue. When put to the test, he made straight cuts, but showed no finesse while butchering the outline of a circle. It took some experimenting and a Master’s degree, but alas, we discovered he was more comfortable executing fine-motor tasks with his left hand. Who knew? My right-handed throwing and hitting son prefers to write, cut, and hold a spoon left-handed. The feedback on a first quarter 4K report card made my job as a parent easier, but more importantly, provided an immediate opportunity for my son to learn.
BIG CONCLUSION: A standards-based report card–which separates behavior from academic achievement and communicates proficiency on specific learning targets–presents a clear picture of what a student knows, can do, and needs more time to master.
This information helps guide a teacher’s plans for instruction and answers the most frequently asked question at parent-teacher conferences: “What can we work on at home to help support our child’s learning?” (the question sometimes comes out as, “What can we do at home to help our child get an A?” but I prefer to hear it as I initially presented–makes me feel better about our priorities in life).
So why do we stop providing parents, students, and teachers this useful information? At some point in the educational process, reporting is reduced to meaningless letter grades and several automated comments–the traditional report card fails to communicate learning. Yes, the stakes get higher as students approach high school graduation and institutions want to see a grade on the transcripts. However, if so much of one’s future is at stake, shouldn’t the report become more specific? If I am a respectable post-secondary institution or place of employment, I want to know more about what is heading my way, representing my organization.
A standards-based grading and reporting system is the logical solution. I know because I am an educator, a coach, a parent, and a student. In fact, I am the student who somehow survived high school calculus. My homework average was an A (I completed all work with some assistance…answers to the odd problems were in the back of the book), quiz scores were in the B range (showed enough work), but my test scores were typically in the C range (sometimes lower). Final exam C-. When the report card arrived, I peeked inside the envelope to discover I earned a B+ in Calculus, “pleasure to have in class.” I was relieved and my parents had no hesitation displaying a Proud Parent of an Honor Student bumper sticker on the back of the car. I might have grasped some concepts, but did not learn calculus. I played the system, which is the one skill a majority of students are quick to master if they so choose.
After learning how to tie shoelaces and cut (but not run) with scissors, my son–now well into the third quarter of fourth grade–continues to enjoy the learning opportunities presented to him. My wife and I gained wisdom from the 4K experience and sent our daughter to school with enough skills to teach her classmates how to tie their shoes. Good thing standards-based grading provides specific feedback and allows for growth over time; I am proficient and improving, but yet to show mastery as a parent.