Your Report Cards Are Making People Upset.
Just over a month ago, I blogged about the figurative building of our social-justice-focused elementary school in Costa Rica and the journey I was beginning with this new community. Our school has been in session for 11 weeks now (whoa) and we’ve finally hit a new benchmark for our year: reporting documents. I have always extremely disliked sending home report cards in the US -- always. This is why I say your report cards are making everyone upset: because I’ve been there and seen it. I’ve done them on paper, on carbon-copies, and online; with letter grades, number grades, and narrative-only; using averages, weighted-averages, and trends. I’ve never been satisfied with the process or the product and, while I never had any complaints, I always felt like classroom parents just wanted to hear “All is well -- keep doing what you’re doing.” It all felt very underwhelming for the insane amount of work they are and the timeline is stressful -- teachers are stressed and kids are worried (even, perhaps especially, the ones who have nothing to worry about).
First of all, I am never as prepared as I want to be for them; second, I don’t feel like I have enough time to complete them thoughtfully; and, third, maybe most importantly, I’m always finding myself torn when assigning grades because a single number or letter just doesn’t cut it when you’re trying to convey a child’s development or learning progression. On the other side of that coin, when I tried to do long-narratives, the parents were lost (“So, is this, like, an ‘A’ or… what does this mean?”). It’s incredibly frustrating and it’s making everyone upset. So, now that I have the opportunity to not do that, I’m not. It’s liberating!
At our new school, we’re developing our own thing to get out of this reporting problem and I’m thinking of it as a “new-to-us-but-maybe-you’re-already-doing-this-awesome-thing” model. What I’m learning is that there are so many amazing schools doing innovative things all the time and just when I think I’ve had an original thought or creation, someone else has been testing it out already somewhere else in the world. This is great because a lot of legwork is already finished for us and we can pick a model for our kids and roll with it, making small changes. Our system was designed specifically for our model. It must be unique because we are teaching in a pre-K through fifth grade multi-age elementary program, some of the students attend part time and supplement with homeschool or unschooling, and, we have self-designed curriculum that focuses on social justice concepts versus the standard focus of most report cards on core academics. The documents are still far from perfect; however, for the first time in my teaching career, I am enjoying the process of grading (yes, we've actually planned in a full week to complete them -- you heard that right: 40 hours of paid time!) and I’m actually (gasp!) looking forward to sending them home.
Looking to review your reporting documents through a new lens? I’ve tried my best to survey widely and synthesize as best I could for our community (I included a few images from our doc’s in this blog post to give you a visual, but, obviously, our documents won’t necessarily work for your kids and families because you have different goals and different needs). Below, check out some of the resources we used that could help you to get started on your journey. Some of these worked for me and I grabbed a ton of ideas, but some of them actually didn’t work for my group and, while I learned many researched-backed strategies, I couldn’t extrapolate the researched results out to our community (because, of course, communities are unique and ever-evolving and they all need different things).