“Excellent performance! More effort needed! Pull up your socks! It is not too late to improve! You could have performed better, if it were not for your poor choices! Keep up the effort!” These are just some of the comments that students receive in report cards across the land and around the world. However, in writing report card comments for elementary school students, the words and phrases that are used can have a significant impact on the child – and on the family. The purpose of our report cards at Matthews Hall is not only to enlighten the parent and student about the student’s performance in school, but to show parents (and kids!) where room for improvement lies and how to get there!
After thirty years on the job, I am more convinced than ever that the whole enterprise of assessment and evaluation in schools is not an exact science. In fact, it is more art than science because how, really, do we effectively summarize a human being in a few short words or phrases? Those of us who are parents understand this. Our children are wonderfully complex and full of idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies. Isn’t that what makes them human in the first place? When we make our best effort to capture them in a progress or summative report, we work hard to keep this in mind. Every teacher (and parent!) with insight understands that a child is more than the sum of its parts!
Someone recently shared a sign with me that they saw posted over a principal’s office door. It ran “Teachers here are aware that, like everyone else, they do not know everything”. I like the sentiment. Instructive for teachers. Instructive for parents. It is a powerful reminder that the education, assessment, and evaluation of other people is truly an artform that requires patience, humility, wisdom, creativity, and teamwork. But it also requires a little thing called standards (i.e., reference points that allow us to compare performance or achievement against established norms or rubrics).
When we share report cards and meet to discuss student progress, we are primarily interested in charting the course for “next steps” along a path of continual improvement. This is often most effective when, together, we help students set personal and realistic goals that can build confidence and mastery. With talented teachers and supportive parents working together, the “ecosystem” is in place that will lead to such mastery – especially in the foundational areas of language and mathematics. Thank you for all of your help in supporting and challenging your children to become the best they can be!
As we take stock of the year’s learning so far, we again make the following commitments to our students and to you:
- We will continue to set and work toward demonstrable and precise learning objectives;
- We will continue to communicate clear mastery thresholds for students (i.e., what mastery of a particular skill looks like!);
- We will continue to offer clear processes for students to show and share their learning (i.e., the multiple ways to show that they’ve mastered it!); and
- We will work to improve the processes we have in place to assess mastery (…remembering that some students may need multiple attempts to demonstrate mastery depending on their level of readiness and the variety of assessment options available).
When our students are given time to learn and succeed, they’re more likely to value perseverance, have confidence in their skills, and understand their own learning needs.
And together, it’s our responsibility and duty to support them in this lifelong endeavour!
Ric Anderson, Head of School