‘Edu-babble’ does not clearly describe learning outcomes
Report card time is rapidly approaching.
Educationally Speaking, Rob MacLellan
Parents send their kids off to school, and then every so often they like to hear from the teachers and school as to how their kids are doing with their studies. The school system obliges by sending home report cards about four times per year. The major issue seems to be as to whether or not the current report cards clearly communicate to parents on the progress of their children.
Over my many years as an educator, in a number of different provinces, I have seen and have had to use many different forms of report cards. Some report card formats worked well in clearly communicating student progress; others not so much.
Back in the 1980s, while I was teaching in Alberta, the school division that I worked for decided that for the elementary years we would go with an ungraded system and report card format. The theory behind this bright idea in Alberta was that grades were the wrong things for students to focus on and that they actually discouraged students from their best efforts.
As teachers we shook our heads over this. While the theory sounded great, we knew that in practice it was not going to accomplish what the decision-makers thought it would and further it would likely cause uproar among students and parents alike. As it turned out, our predictions were accurate.
The students were confused, as they didn’t know what their standing was in their grade, and at the end of the year they couldn’t tell whether or not they were actually moving into the next grade. Parents were upset as well, as they wanted to know how their kids were doing, and the only report card they would be satisfied with was one that included either a letter grade or percentage grade. After a year, this new format/experiment was ended.
In the 1990s, I was teaching in Manitoba when the school division I worked for introduced a new reporting format for the early years (Grade K-4) report cards. There would be no traditional numbers or letters on them. Instead, as teachers, we were to use a new set of letters: H, D and N. The H stood for Highly Developed, the D stood for Developed, and the N stood for Needs Development.
For the higher grades, I believe we were to use number grades. In all instances though, we had to cut and paste comments related to the learning outcomes that had to be achieved by each student. It took a long time to prepare each report card, and the report card ended by being several pages in length. We certainly blew through a lot of printer ink. Parents complained that the report cards were too long and made no sense to them, and most of them did not read the whole thing. The whole H, D and N grading made no sense to any of the parents at all.
Fast forward 20 years, and we seem to have the same problem. Clearly nothing has been learned from other jurisdictions from across Canada. What we have now is a non-graded primary report, letter grades for grades one to eight, and then percentages for grades nine to 12. It is just my opinion, but it seems to me that a little consistency is called for.
The second component of the reports involves cutting and pasting in pertinent comments related to the students’ achievements of the learning outcomes. I know how time intensive this process is, and if it offered all parents clear and understandable descriptions of their children’s progress in school, then it would be worthwhile. It seems however, that that goal has not been achieved.
Teachers must plan their lessons based on curricular outcomes that have been set by the province. It seems to me that this new cut and paste reporting format is the governments’ attempt to introduce accountability and uniformity throughout the education system. The language used in the writing of these learning outcomes has been described by some people who I have heard from as so much ‘edu-babble.’ Certainly, the wording of some of the learning outcomes is difficult for even teachers to understand.
A number of years ago, I recall working with a Grade 12 English teacher who, in his/her planning, had come to a learning outcome that he/she did not understand well enough to create a lesson around. I had to spend a fair bit of time with this teacher in explaining the concept and making up potential lesson examples, off the top of my head, before this teacher was able to proceed with the planning activity.
In early July of this year, there were a number of letters to the editor and articles in local papers by people denouncing the new report cards.
One such article called Report card language baffles parents found on the CBC news website on July 3, 2013, reads as follows: “Marshall Hamilton has five children. He says teacher comments on the cards are impossible to understand. ‘I don't see my child in the comments,’ he says.
At the same time, opposition politicians Jamie Baillie and Karen Casey spoke to the report card issue.
In the July 4, 2013, issue of the Truro Daily News, Casey is quoted as saying, “If our parents cannot adequately determine the status of the child’s educational experience, how can they properly ensure children receive the resources required to continue to advance through the education system?”
On July 3, 2013, the King’s County Advertiser/Register reports that, Baillie agreed that it’s time to get rid of confusing and bureaucratic language used in report cards. “Parents need to clearly understand how their children are performing,” said Baillie.
On Sept. 3, of this year, the NDP government released the following statement: “To ensure that parents are full partners in their children’s education, the province wants their input to develop a new report card to meet their needs. At the time, Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Ramona Jennex said the province would “consult with parents and teachers to come up with a better, plain language report card.” The public was invited to submit their opinions to the NDP government by Sept. 30.
Since this time, voters have seen fit to set aside the NDP government, replacing it with a newly elected Liberal government. I hope that as we transition between governments that the public submissions on the topic of report cards not be lost, and that the incoming government acts to create a new report card for schools to use.
Casey and Baillie now have new enhanced political roles, as do many of their political colleagues around the province. Let’s hold our newly elected representatives to their promise to deliver on better report cards. A plain language report card is what I believe is needed, and it is what parents and students deserve.
Rob MacLellan is an advocate of adult education, a professional educator and a resident of Alton. He can be reached at: phone: 673-3269, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.