We all know it’s important, and yet we all dread it; writing reports. Whether you do this once a year, once a unit or somewhere in between, whether you’re a new school or well established, new to teaching or seasoned veteran – it’s still hard. This year we’ve been wrestling with some big questions when it comes to reporting:
- What is the purpose of reporting, and how do we know our reporting is fit for purpose?
- How do we balance the varied answers different groups of stakeholders will give to the first question?
- How do we report on ‘soft skills’? Should we report on them?
- What role does grading play in our learning community? How do/can our grading practices reflect our values and our expectations?
- How do we ensure that our reporting is accessible to all, whilst also reflecting the different languages of our community?
We’ve been working on this on and off for the entire school year. Admin and Curriculum leadership teams have met, grade level teams have created mock versions, shared ideas and feedback, we took feedback from parents on past report cards and current progress reports, we sampled and compared dozens of versions from other schools. Then we drafted, edited, redrafted our own version so many times we lost count of which version we were on. At the end of all of this, we produced a version which isn’t yet perfect – but that I’m proud of nevertheless. It’s a culmination of hours of Professional Development (in house and with Dr. Thomas Guskey), many meetings and metaphorical blood, sweat and tears. But more than that, it represents real thought, deep and challenging engagement from so many members of our school team and has been part of (and a product of) significant steps forward in the way we think about learning this year.
The report card we’ve produced as a result is context specific to our school, our students, our community and our practice, but here are a few of the highlights:
Character: The IB Learner Profile
As an IB school, character and holistic development for us is central to our teaching and learning. We want our students to become global citizens, world changers and life-long learners. We use the IB Learner Profile throughout the school and so reflecting on this area of development was a big goal. It’s tough – can you/how do you measure and record this? Truthfully, not easily. We wrestled with this idea a lot, wanting a way to honour student growth and the importance of character, whilst not wanting to make it seem academic, a signal of success, etc. What we’ve moved towards is using this as a chance for students to reflect with their teacher on what they consider to be their strengths and areas to grow. This isn’t about grading these traits, but reflecting on them and providing prompts for important conversations.
Building on the great PD we had this year with Dr. Tom Guskey we were keen to separate academics and behaviour. To help with this, we designed check boxes (using the Self Management and Social Skills from the IB) to give teachers a specific place to report on behaviour, effort, organisation, and social skills – which often intersect with student performance but need to be considered separately. We also hope this will provide families with a clearer picture of their child’s behaviour – something which again may prompt important conversations.
One of our hardest decisions was to change our grading scale. We know this means a need to help students and families understand a new system, but we felt strongly that it was a necessary change.
We’ve switched from a 4 point scale to a 3 point scale. Largely because our ‘highest’ grade, was to exceed expectations and this had become somewhat of an unknown, or a ‘unicorn grade’. When we discussed it in teams it was very hard to define what exceeding expectations might look like in a meaningful way. After much discussion and thought, reading and reflection we chose to remove this grade entirely. Our new top of the scale is ‘Independent’ demonstrating that a student can meet the grade level expectations with an appropriate level of independence. We’ll still be recognising those children who go above and beyond our expectations (either in terms of grade expectations, or commitment to learning, or additional connections and projects) in our written comments and our conversations both in class and at conferences.
This is also better for our students in terms of making use of feedback. Imagine the frustration of successfully meeting/doing everything expected of you only to be told it’s not really enough and we can’t really tell you specifically what more to do?
We’re also working on a model of mastery, rather than averaging grades from assignments throughout units/terms we record where the student is at the time of reporting. We expect students to make progress over time, and where they get to is ultimately more important than when they get there. If a child was struggling at the beginning of a unit but made significant progress, is it fair that their grade is impacted by that early struggle?
The majority of our student population are dual Arabic and English speakers, whilst our reports are mostly in English we’ve reported on their Arabic language and Religion classes (both of which are delivered in Arabic) in Arabic. This is largely to convey an important message – that both languages are important and play significant roles in our lives. We’ve also taken the important step of having headings and subheadings translated into Arabic by our Arabic Head of Department. This may seem like a small step (since they say the same thing essentially), but is important in terms of demonstrating the value of language in our community.
As I mentioned earlier, our Report Card is not perfect. We’ll reflect, we’ll review and we’ll revise because getting better is just what we do as educators. But I am incredibly proud of the team I work with and the journey in learning this represents.