Reporting the “Tough Stuff”

12 11 2011

It’s that time of year.  The time when all teachers disappear from all forms of human contact and hunker down to write the dreaded report cards.  You’d think it’d be easier for me, being a writer and all.  Although I typically enjoy writing, I do not enjoy writing report cards.  Placing judgement on a student’s learning is always a difficult thing for me.  Measuring a group of uniquely diverse learners, against one standard level of performance is hard. 

I have just completed my first set of progress reports for the year.  I find these the most difficult ones to write.  Not only, do I feel like I’ve only been with the students a short time, but I still find the categories of assessment confusing.  What is the difference between “progressing with difficulty” and “progressing well”?  This decision has been left to many of us to use our professional discretion in order to determine exactly how we define “with difficulty”. 

Bear with me as I share a personal anecdote that came to mind as I considered my views of recognizing students’ challenges earlier rather than later.  A few years ago, my mom passed away from cancer.  During her illness, she met with three different doctors.  The first one  told her that he suspected that there might be a problem.  There was a slight chance that it was cancer.  It was a possibility that she was beginning to show signs and only further testing could determine for sure.  That was when she got a second opinion.  The second doctor told her that the chance that it was cancer was slim to none, and that she should not worry, go on with her life and “make plans for the future”.  It wasn’t until a year later, when she met the third doctor who told her that she was facing a real problem;  one that was significant and difficult to treat.  Although his treatment was immediate and aggressive, the truth was that it was too late.  It had little or no effect.

I think about the assessment process. I know it’s hard to say to a parent, “I think your child is having some difficulties at this point, but let’s work together to try to make it better.”  It’s much easier to just hope that it’ll get better on it’s own.  But, imagine if later you have to be the one to say “I think there’s something significant going on”.   As a parent, I would rather have the ‘heads up’ that things may not be as perfect as I might think.  I would hate to be surprised on the next report and discover that my child was indeed struggling but I didn’t know until it was potentially too late.

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5 responses

12 11 2011
Angie

Progressing with difficulty is a loaded term. I have a delightful group who are trying and being successful with the accommodations I’m providing each day. The students are working hard, they are learning yet I need to put progressing with difficulty because they are not close to being able to achieve the provincial standard. With hard work on my part, my students part and their parents part, we will move closer to achieving the provincial standard. I feel the progressing with difficult term means, I as a teacher am working very hard and I need to do more to support the learner.

13 11 2011
Royan Lee

Great post, Lisa. You spoke my mind.

14 11 2011
Anonymous

Particularly when we are talking about a progress report, the fact remains that there is another report to follow. In my experience, parents have rarely complained when marks or comments improve over time. That, in fact, is the preferred method of change. Better to give the tough love early in the year and let the growth shine than to sugar coat only to burst the bubble come the next reporting period!

20 11 2011
Cynthia Renkema (@CrRenkema)

Lisa,
You write an excellent post here. Your message is one I wish more teachers would read. I sat with one Gr.1 student’s parents on Friday and had to tell them that I think there is a serious learning difficulty. Of course we hope that it is just a stage the child is going through and that with maturity, the problem will no longer exist. But as the professional in education and the person that spends more educational time with their child, it is my responsibility to gently share with frankness the most accurate and honest assessment of their child’s educational development. It was hard to share my thoughts and assessment of the child with the parents but I’d rather share that at this time of the year rather than in March or June.
Cynthia
ps. What do you think of “Progressing with Difficulty” as the student is presently working at a level 2 or less and most likely will not achieve more than a level 2 by first term report card?

20 11 2011
Lisa Donohue

Thanks Cynthia for your comment. I think the biggest challenge is that the term “Progressing with Difficulty’ is such a grey area. In the past, it has always indicated that the student is at risk and falling significantly below the expectation for the grade. However, now it seems to indicate that the student has shown “some learning”, but may still be below the expectation. I think this is an ongoing professional dialogue that we will all need to continue in order to come to a shared understanding and a common definition. But until that happens, I guess, we’ll just have to use our best professional judgement.

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