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BCTF Response to the Draft Standardized Provincial Report Card Templates

A Brief to the Minister of Education
from
the British Columbia Teachers' Federation

April 2004


B.C. Teachers’ Federation Response to the
Draft Standardized Provincial Report Card Templates

PREAMBLE

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation is the union of professionals that represents the 42,000 teachers in the public education system in British Columbia. The Federation is committed to success for every student in a strong and stable public education system.

The Federation values the opportunity to be involved at the policy level, not just in the implementation of policy, but it has some serious concerns about the process in this case. The Federation notes that all the education partner organizations except the BCTF were contacted to either select or affirm members to sit on the committee that developed the templates. And one of the largest local teacher unions in the province was told that an after-school regional meeting was “invitation only.” This lack of a respectful process is a serious impediment to the full involvement of the profession in decisions affecting their working lives as well as the system as a whole.

Despite its concerns about the process, the Federation encouraged its locals, provincial specialist associations (PSAs), school staffs, and individual members to respond to the idea of standardized provincial report cards and to the draft templates developed by the ministry. The Federation developed a discussion guide. Some locals distributed the draft templates and the discussion guide to each of their members. Several PSAs held special meetings to discuss the issue. There were active discussions on Federation and PSA e-mail lists, and a special issue session on provincial report cards at the Federation’s Annual General Meeting during Spring Break.

RECOMMENDATION

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation recommends that the ministry not develop standardized provincial report cards.

The majority of teachers who responded feel that standardized provincial report cards are not necessary. They argued that one size could never fit all. Many teachers also noted that their schools and districts have already gone to enormous lengths to develop local report cards.

I love my job, but writing report cards is one of the most difficult parts of that job. Over the years, I have collaborated with other teachers and am finally at the point where I am comfortable with the report card format that I use. So you can imagine my frustration at hearing that a new draft is being proposed and I have no choice about whether or not I want to use it.

Vancouver teachers have worked very hard to make a parent-friendly report card already and don’t need another new report card which mandates the format and the performance standards language.

The suggestion that all students need to get the same kind of report card is faulty. There is no need for a mandated, one size fits all, report card. Many time-tested, parent-loved, teacher-created models are in successful use around the province doing the job they were designed for—informing parents of the progress of their child and outlining ways for home and school to support that learning.

We have an excellent district report format, but thanks anyway!

Typically, administrators, teachers, and parents have worked together on these projects and are generally happy with the result. The commitment of some to the local report cards is so high that they argue that theirs ought to be adopted as the provincial standard.

What about the good practices out there on local report cards that would no longer be allowed?

Others who have been through the local process have reached the conclusion that the perfect report card is an unattainable goal.

We will never arrive at the ultimate report card that can perfectly sum up a child. Therefore the attempt to devise a provincial form is a waste of time, money, and effort at a time when there is precious little money available for far more important things.

The minority who support a standardized provincial report card do so because they believe it might be less onerous than what is currently required of them. For example, some teachers are simply grateful that the template does not require them to report on each learning outcome separately. Most local report cards require teachers to do more than is required by existing provincial policies on reporting. This is a huge workload issue for teachers. The Federation’s discussion guide included the ministry’s current reporting requirements, and many teachers were surprised to find out that most of what they are required to do is based on local decisions and not provincial policy. Teachers are also surprised to find out that many of their local report cards do not conform to existing provincial reporting policy and wonder why the ministry has made no efforts to ensure that existing provincial policy is followed. Teachers who may otherwise have supported standardized provincial report cards are clearly put off by the draft templates:

Should standard report cards be mandatory? Not if they’re as badly thought out as this one!

I remain skeptical based on the past history of our current government.

Teachers are also skeptical about the ministry’s ability to find the resources to properly implement standardized report cards.

Teachers generally support existing provincial reporting policy, with the exception of the “I” (Incomplete) letter grade. They are concerned about the ministry’s stated intention to revise the policy after the report card templates are finalized. Surely the development of the templates should flow from policy.

Teachers are confused by the inconsistency of the rhetoric about choice and flexibility and the elimination of “dumb” rules on the one hand, and the proposal to centralize and standardize on the other. The Federation urges the minister to set provincial reporting policy only, and to allow local schools and school boards to develop local report cards that meet their needs and goals.

ISSUES

Respondents raised a number of issues about the draft standardized provincial report cards in general. This brief will address those general concerns before addressing concerns that are specific to each of the draft templates.

Use of technology

Many teachers have had negative experiences with the technology associated with local report cards, and they are worried that they will experience more of the same frustrations with a provincial report card.

At the Burnaby regional meeting, ministry representatives were unable to explain how the new technology would work or what it would cost.

Technology is not always available and reliable. If a computer-based or web-based report card is mandated, teachers need to be provided with laptop computers so that it is possible to work at school or at home, and to negate the possibility of incompatible software or hardware.

Teachers are extremely wary of the proposal to have online report card writing using the new Common Student Information System (CSIS). They have several concerns:

  • security of the information and privacy issues
  • use and misuse of report-card data
  • compatibility with marks programs currently in use
  • cost to district of $10 per student in addition to money already spent by districts on software, etc., to develop local report cards
  • availability of technology to all teachers during regular working hours
  • right of teachers to do report cards by hand or be trained pursuant to technology change clauses in collective agreements

Teachers are very concerned that the ministry’s plans for CSIS are far ahead of any discussion and debate within the educational community about appropriate uses, necessary safeguards, and costs relative to other priorities in public education.

Omissions from the draft templates

Teachers were very concerned that the draft templates do not address students with special needs on IEPs, ESL learners, or even French immersion.

We find it exceedingly difficult to locate our particular group of learners within the templates.

The assurance that the omissions will be dealt with later is of little comfort. Many teachers have engaged in local report-card-design discussions and know that the omitted ones are the most difficult areas to address in a common report card. Simply adding enclosures is not enough; the report card has to indicate that the student’s program has been modified or that the student is an ESL learner.

I teach a successful alternate program for children with severe learning disabilities. My current reports, based on the district standard, are detailed, accurate, personalized, one-page descriptions of each student’s term-by-term learning, abilities, and needs. Current practice with respect to my students should not be lightly abandoned.

Many teachers noted that although districts have successfully developed standardized inserts, it will be more difficult to standardize provincially. For example, there are no mandatory provincial assessment standards for ESL learners.

Inserts or attachments would require teachers to fill out two report cards rather than one—a fairly meaningless standardized one, and a meaningful personalized one.

Fine arts teachers note that fine arts is lumped as a single subject when in fact there are separate IRPs, each with separate learning outcomes. Teachers tried unsuccessfully to find even one learning outcome that was common across the four disciplines of fine arts.

Including learning outcomes on report cards

The draft templates for all but secondary require teachers to choose four learning outcomes from a drop-down list to indicate which learning outcomes were taught during the term. The majority of teachers who responded were opposed to the inclusion of learning outcomes on report cards. Teachers in favour of learning outcomes on report cards also voiced a number of concerns. Several issues, both pedagogical and practical, are inherent in including learning outcomes on report cards:

  1. Report cards are primarily the place to report evaluations of student progress. Time, effort, and space taken to communicate previews, or more accurately post-views, of the curriculum inevitably take away from time, effort, and space dedicated to reporting evaluations of students’ progress. What students are expected to learn is better communicated at the beginning of a term and in another form.

  2. The templates allow teachers to select only four learning outcomes each term. Teachers are typically working on many more outcomes than that each term. They would not be able to cover the curriculum otherwise. Teachers are unsure how they are supposed to choose four of the many outcomes they are teaching. As the assessment and evaluation will be based on all the outcomes, it will be confusing and misleading for parents and students to have only a subset of those outcomes identified. If learning outcomes are to be included at all, then all learning outcomes addressed in the term must be included. The resulting volume of learning outcomes would overwhelm the evaluative aspects of the report card, effectively changing the purpose of report cards.

  3. No "adapted" learning outcome is allowable in ministry policy, so any formal communication of learning outcomes must use the wording of the prescribed learning outcomes as they appear in IRPs. The notes accompanying the templates say the outcomes used in the templates have been "adapted" for use on report cards; that is, they are not quite the same as the prescribed learning outcomes teachers are required to teach. The use of the word adapted is confusing, as the word has an entirely different meaning in ministry policy. Teachers use "adapted" instructional strategies and assessment strategies to help students learn, and demonstrate their learning, in relation to "prescribed" learning outcomes as an alternative to "modifying" the learning outcomes. That the ministry had reworded the learning outcomes prompted many teachers to ask if they may amend and revise them as well.

  4. The prescribed learning outcomes are not grade-specific in primary grades. The learning outcomes communicate what students are expected to be able to do in that subject at that grade level. However, the learning outcomes for primary are intended to be learned over a two-year period, K–1 or 2–3, so the outcomes that appear on report cards for students in Kindergarten and Grade 2 will be ones that students have another year to fully master. Parents may see learning outcomes, such as "round numbers to nearest 10 and 100" under an indication that the student is not yet within expectations.

Reporting on work habits

All the templates except the Kindergarten one, have some way of reporting teacher evaluations of students’ work habits. There is general agreement among teachers that work habits are important and teachers should evaluate and report on them, although the form and format might vary with the grade level.

Primary teachers support the omission of a work-habits evaluation from the Kindergarten report card, agreeing that it is “too soon.” They believe Kindergarten teachers could include a comment related to work habits in the “Comments/Ways to Support Learning” sections if they feel it necessary.

Most primary teachers feel that the G (good), S (satisfactory), or N (needs improvement) scale for work habits is a pedagogical step backward in the Primary Program. The majority of secondary teachers are comfortable with this system for secondary students. Intermediate and middle school teachers are divided on the issues—some are willing to use G, S, and N; others prefer open-ended comments.

The template includes a note: “Full descriptions of the scale to be provided by school.”

The draft template for the secondary Grades 8–12 report card provides a rubric for the evaluation of work habits, and other templates say a full description of the scale will be provided by the school. Teachers generally favour a scale or rubric for work habits. They feel it would lead to clearer expectations for students, more thoughtful teacher evaluation of work habits, more consistency among teachers, and fuller information for parents. While teachers are generally supportive of there being a scale for work habits, there were many criticisms of this particular scale. For example, “Independence” refers to the amount of teacher support the student required which in many cases speaks more to students’ abilities than to their work habits. An ESL student or a student with a learning disability may have excellent work habits but still “need one-on-one attention most of the time,” which is deemed “needs improvement.”

PRIMARY TEMPLATES

This is the most controversial of the templates. Primary teachers are very upset by what they see as a betrayal of the philosophy and pedagogy of the Primary Program. Many respondents quoted from the Primary Program document to contrast it with the templates. And some suggested it is no accident that the draft report card templates are so out of step with the current philosophy of the Primary Program.

Suspicious minds would believe this is a back door attack on the acclaimed primary program.

Primary teachers expressed “alarm” rather than “concern” and used adjectives that included sterile, cold, impersonal, institutional, mechanistic, and Orwellian to describe the draft primary report card template. Others made anguished pleas for it not to be implemented.

It is just not good or responsible reporting! Don’t make me do it!

The draft templates for primary report cards are overwhelmingly seen as a step backwards in education in B.C.

We feel that this proposed format is not appropriate for reporting the progress of young children.

Subjects and areas of development

Both the draft primary report cards, the one for Kindergarten and the one for Grades 1 to 3, have headings that represent a mix of subject areas as defined by IRPs and the areas of development as defined by the Primary Program. This leads to considerable conceptual confusion between subject areas and areas of development.

The draft report card templates require teachers to report student progress in relation to learning outcomes in IRPs:

  • under a combination area of development and subject heading for four of the seven required curricula: language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science
  • under an area of development heading for two subjects: Physical education under “Physical Development” and fine arts under “Artistic Development and Awareness,” and
  • under a subject heading only for one subject: personal planning.

The relationship between learning outcomes in IRPs and areas of development is explicitly (and exhaustively at 28 pages) addressed in Appendix B of The Primary Program: A Framework for Teaching, Ministry of Education 2000. However, the draft report card templates do not reflect what appears in the Primary Program document.

The templates require teachers to report on progress in relation to the areas of development in the Primary Program by:

  • evaluating Aesthetic and Artistic Development, under the heading Artistic Development and Awareness, using the learning outcomes of the fine arts curricula, although the Primary Program document also lists some language arts learning outcomes under this area of development
  • evaluating Social and Emotional Development at Kindergarten but not at Grades 1–3
  • evaluating Intellectual Development under subject headings for language arts, mathematics, social studies and science, although the Primary Program document also lists learning outcomes from the personal planning and fine arts curricula under this area of development
  • evaluating Physical Development only, rather than Physical Development and Well-Being, using the learning outcomes from the PE curriculum only, although the Primary Program document also lists many learning outcomes from the personal planning curriculum as well as learning outcomes from the science and fine arts curricula under this area of development.

Neither of the primary report card templates requires teachers to evaluate and report on the fifth area of development defined by the Primary Program—the development of social responsibility. Many teachers commented on the omission. Primary teachers see this as a critical area of development during the primary years and therefore a critical area for reporting.

Most primary teachers would prefer to report student progress under Areas of Development headings rather than subject headings. Several also said they would like “Social and Emotional Development” to be the first heading on the report card.

Teachers who teach integrated units but must report by subject area, for example in the intermediate grades, must “pull apart” assessment and evaluation in order to report by subject. Many primary teachers feel that the early years are too soon to do that. They prefer to report holistically without headings at all or using the headings currently in the ministerial order or using the areas of development as headings.

Primary education is a holistic, integrated, and multifaceted approach. It proceeds in leaps, steps, pauses, and, in some cases, backsliding. It is individualized and child-centred. It defies being broken down into subjects.

Levels of performance

The report card templates use headings similar to the headings used in the B.C. Performance Standards—not yet within expectations, approaching expectations, meeting expectations, and exceeding expectation—and provide a scale to define those levels. That does not make them linked in any way to the performance standards as stated in the ministry notes. The ministry has not produced performance standards for many of the subjects on the report card—social studies, science, personal planning, etc. The B.C. Performance Standards are non-mandatory teacher resources that provide scales with exemplar samples of student work; they are NOT simply the headings on the columns. They are also aligned to expected performance in March–April of the school year. Many Kindergarten teachers pointed out that there are no performance standards written for Kindergarten.

What kind of impact will a “does not meet expectations” checkmark in November of Kindergarten have on the self-esteem of my little ones and the hearts of their parents?

Primary teachers are also very opposed to the scale that accompanies these four levels. Earlier they had worried the proposed new report cards would include letter grades. Letter grades require teachers to define six levels of performance in relation to learning outcomes—A, B, C+, C, C-, and I or F. That is, teachers must be able to explain, in relation to the learning outcomes in prescribed curricula, how a student’s C+ differs from a B. To their relief, the notes that accompanied the draft templates indicated that “letter grades are not appropriate in the early years, because it is typical for children at this age to develop more quickly in one area than another. Their knowledge and skills change rapidly.”

However, despite that statement, the proposed new primary report cards have eight gradations within each of the four levels, for a total of 32 different levels of performance. That is, primary teachers would have to be able to define and explain, in relation to the learning outcomes in prescribed curricula in the case of subjects, or in relation to expected levels of development in the case of the goal areas, 32 different levels of performance.

The current ministerial order on reporting requires teachers to provide oral or written comments on the student’s progress with reference to expected development for students in a similar age range. It is essentially a two-point scale—within widely held expectations or not. The four-point scale—not yet meeting, approaching, meeting, and exceeding expectations—would require teachers to define four levels of performance. Letter grades would require primary teachers to define six levels of performance. The draft templates as presented, with eight gradations within each scale point, require teachers to define 32 levels of performance.

Teachers know they cannot do that in any meaningful and defensible way.

I have been an educator for over thirty years. I have been a parent for twenty. I have seen report cards come and go. This proposal takes the prize as being the most confusing so far. I can’t imagine how I would assess my students to discover exactly where they fall on this scale. Does one get an extra two squares because he or she is able to use capitals and periods slightly more often than his or her neighbour? Does a perfect score on a math fact drill three days in a row entitle him or her to three extra squares? As a parent, I would find this hopelessly confusing.

Our greatest concern is the 32-point scale.

It is a glorified checklist.

To distinguish between 32 levels or performance for each child in a class is impossible. Not only that; we believe such “quantification” is detrimental to a child.

Children do not fit into boxes!

Comments/Ways to support learning

The draft templates provide enough space for 16 lines of comments in a nine-point font. The heading for this is “Comments/Ways to Support Learning” on the Kindergarten template, but simply “Comments” on the Grade 1–3 template. Primary teachers much prefer the heading “Comments/Ways to Support Learning” to be used throughout the primary years. Many also said that the nine-point font is inappropriate and will affect the readability of the report card. But primary teachers’ main concern about the comments section is that its much reduced size, as well as being inadequate, clearly shifts the focus of evaluation and reporting in the Primary years from the current holistic approaches to sorting and ranking students.

In this Orwellian report card, there are few ways to communicate success.

MIDDLE-YEARS TEMPLATES

Response to the two middle-years templates is mixed. Teachers appreciate the recognition of middle schools and generally support having a choice of templates for Grades 4–9. However, most teachers are not in such an either-or configuration. The most common pattern in elementary schools currently seems to be that students have one teacher for most of their subjects, with one or more other teachers for a subject or two—perhaps music, French, or PE. A number of teachers who teach most or all subjects prefer the template designed for the multiple teachers configuration, partly so they can put separate comments for each subject area.

Both templates span Grades 4 to 9, and teachers are concerned that the same reporting form is inappropriate across such a wide grade and age range.

You would never evaluate a Grade 4 student the same as a Grade 9 student, yet they will receive the same form.

Many teachers supported the suggestion in the notes accompanying the draft templates that letter grades would be optional in Grades 4 and 5.

Evaluation of social responsibility

The ministry is not proposing that teachers evaluate social responsibility in the Primary years, where social responsibility is an area of development in the Primary Program, but it is proposing that teachers evaluate it in Grades 4–9 where it is not currently part of the required educational programs.

The draft templates for Grades 4–9 require that teachers give students a letter grade for social responsibility. Although the notes refer to it as a “subject,” it is not. There is no IRP, no curriculum, no prescribed learning outcomes, and it is currently not a required part of the educational program beyond the Primary Program. B.C. Performance Standards for Social Responsibility is a non-mandatory resource for teachers. The draft templates list the four organizers used in the B.C. Performance Standards for Social Responsibility as “learning outcomes,” but they are not prescribed learning outcomes, and the performance standards are not an educational program guide.

If the ministry is proposing to add social responsibility as a mandatory part of students’ educational programs, such a significant proposal needs to have a separate and thorough discussion. It cannot simply be added to the educational program via a report card review.

SECONDARY TEMPLATE

There were fewer responses from secondary teachers than from primary, elementary, or middle school teachers. Some secondary teachers said it was pointless to respond as their advice about the Graduation Program was ignored, specifically their advice on Grade 10 and 11 provincial exams, the graduation portfolio, and focus areas. However, it appears that the main reason why there was less response is simply that the proposed template differs little from current practice.

Many secondary teachers expressed surprise that the ministry feels a need to standardize secondary report card formats. Secondary report cards are currently remarkably similar around the province, and the template differs little from this convergent status quo. In fact, the biggest change from current reporting policy being proposed for secondary report cards, the addition of percentages as well as letter grades for Grades 8–10, is already common practice in many secondary schools. Other secondary schools have avoided this trend, for solid educational reasons.

We don’t use percentages, just letter grades, to keep kids’ eyes off number crunching and on learning.

Secondary teachers are concerned, however, about the comments. They are critical of the comments available in the templates. Many comment banks have been developed by schools, departments, or even individual teachers. Teachers want to be able to continue to develop and use school comment banks.

Teachers in our school district already draw on a data bank of comments developed by teachers here. It will require more time to become familiar with a new set of comments.

In closing, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation would like to reiterate its advice to the minister to set provincial reporting policy only and to allow local schools and school boards to develop local report cards that meet their needs and goals.

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