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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 6, April 2005

Report-card templates for primary and kindergarten grades

by Lori Robinson

This is a letter the B.C. Primary Teachers’ Association (BCPTA) sent to Minister of Education Tom Christensen in February 2005.

The BCPTA submitted a brief to your predecessor, Ms. Clark, expressing numerous concerns about the proposed report-card templates. Since then, with limited public participation, your office has released a revised template. The BCPTA has serious concerns about this report card format. Please consider the following:

Inconsistency with the Primary Program: The Primary Program bridges Kindergarten and Grade 1, and Grade 2/3 goals. These goals are not separated by individual grade. All IRPs also bridge the K/1 and 2/3 goals. This was a deliberate decision based on current, valid educational research that supports that children develop at different rates and at different times. Not only are these templates contrary to the Primary Program philosophy, but the ministry goal of revising all of the existing IRPs to provide learning outcomes and achievement indicators for each grade is contradictory to evidence supporting the learning process and child development. By raising the achievement bar in the five areas of development, of which Intellectual Development comprises one part, it is unreasonable to assume that students will simply comply and learn faster.

Learning Outcomes and Performance Standard support materials are set for end of the year expectations. How do teachers writing report cards in November and March use these curricular materials to effectively assess and report on progress? Is it the ministry’s intention to have teachers estimate how the student will finish, or measure them on the end-of year criteria and find students not meeting expectations for the first two terms? Teachers cannot be expected to predict how a student will finish at the end of the year-there are too many factors which make this highly unreliable.

Work Habits: This is a highly subjective area. We do not want to see a provincial set of standards, because Work Habits are contextually dependent--there are rural/urban, cultural, age-based, and teacher-influenced factors that change the needs in each B.C. classroom. More importantly, teachers set goals for individual students based upon areas that need attention. This is another area that would be better served with anecdotal comments describing specific areas of growth and future development.

Ways to Support Learning: It is educationally questionable that the comment box for support is twice as large for Kindergarten students, when compared with the space provided on the primary grade template. Does the ministry believe our youngest learners need remediating more than the other grades? This also puts a strong emphasis on students being at risk‚ more than at promise. Again, this comes back to the research on brain development and individualized learning rates.

Simplification: Teachers will find the proposed format more complicated—13 boxes, comments for each, taking two full pages. Most teachers feel that this will extend the assessment, evaluation, and reporting processes—and take even more time.

Computer access: Not every teacher has the software and computer operating system to support these templates at home and/or at school. Many schools have struggled to maintain their computer equipment and networks. Access to secure computers and servers that will safeguard privacy is inconsistent across the province. Furthermore, there is an unreasonable expectation that teachers will want or have computer and/or server access from home. Many locals across the province have technology change clauses in their collective agreements that will need to be respected and adhered to.

Lack of recognition of Kindergarten as unique: There is more reporting space for reporting on reading, writing, social studies, and science than there is for social and emotional development. Kindergarten teachers will tell you that the most important goal is helping our new learners become accustomed to school, adjusting to the process, and becoming lifelong learners. The emphasis on intellectual development in the report templates is in conflict with the intention of the Primary Program—that there are five areas of development, equally important. There is also serious concern that Kindergarten teachers are expected to specifically comment on 13 specific areas (boxes) after two months of school, given that most Kindergarten students attend school for half days (150 minutes daily).

Integration of subjects: According to the annotated template, if science and social studies are integrated with other subjects, they must be reported on in the other boxes and the spaces will be reallocated by the computer program. This would work if teachers only integrated two subjects, but most teachers work with a multidisciplinary approach to learning. Some expert teachers can combine four or more subjects/goal areas of the Primary Program all in the same lesson!

Performance Scales: Children are wonderfully complex learners. Given that there are currently almost 700 prescribed learning outcomes in the first four years of school, it is very difficult to imagine that a student would be achieving at the same rate within any subject. This is especially evident in the Artistic and Aesthetic Development—this category includes dance, music and the visual arts, each a different process, with different subskills within. Within each grade, classroom, and even individual student, there are different objectives for the term, the week, and the day, and further contextualized by the activity and learning style of each learner. There is a complex science to teaching that cannot be reduced to sliding scales of progress.

Some children are more vulnerable than others. Many special education students are not identified, by ministry standards, until after starting school. Many more children with learning disabilities are not identified until the intermediate grades. These are children who would, with the proposed templates, be identified as "not yet meeting‚" in most areas. Some children, as supported by the best research in child development and education, need more time to learn and are not ready at the same time as their classmates. Regardless of the source or cause of the delays in development, these children deserve the best supportive educational environment. Receiving a report card sprayed with "not yet meeting‚" marks could potentially damage a child’s self esteem. Further, that report card would not adequately reflect the progress each learner makes. This is a group of children who often have to work harder than their counterparts—and this template does not give credit for that growth.

The Ministry of Education is trying to provide districts with a tool to standardize reporting for data collection and accountability purposes. However, given the assumptions and generalizations this report format requires of teachers, there are actually more opportunities for insinuations and oversimplifications. Teachers will be asked to rely on "intuition‚"—not a reliable method. The consistency sought by your ministry is simply not possible with this rigid reporting format. It may look the same, but will it mean the same, or convey the same depth and breadth of knowledge as an anecdotal format? The templates do not reflect the importance of conferencing with parents as part of the process. The daily data collected by teachers comes from a rich source of activities, observed, discussed, collected, marked, heard, and experienced within a very expansive context.

Our youngest learners face additional challenges from these templates. Many students do not have access to preschools, and this has never been a prerequisite to starting school. Many students come from homes in which English is a second language or dialect, which will have a direct effect upon language acquisition, and therefore literacy skills. If a child is behind when first starting school, when there are no requirements to be able to attend school other than being five years old that year, are we assessing their learning, or are you asking teachers to assess children and the home education they received from their parents for the first five years? If we are trying to build ties to the homes and parents of our students, failing children as soon as they start school is absolutely not the way to accomplish it. Nor will this instill the love of learning.

We would appreciate being able to meet with you or your staff on this critical matter. We represent our teachers, but also our students and the B.C. Primary Program: A Framework for Learning (2000). It is important to us that best practices in our schools and classrooms reflect the current, valid research in learning and teaching methods. We ask that you please include us in this process and take our professional experience and training into consideration.

Lori Robinson is president of the B.C. Primary Teachers’ Association. lori_robinson@shaw.ca.

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