Albright: Report Cards

May 31, 2016

We baby boomers cling to a lot of childhood memories younger generations find quaint. Take report cards. Mine was a study in simplicity. Sturdy tan cardstock, folded like a little book. Back then, we were not assessed. Assessing was done on real estate, not people.

In elementary school, we were graded on just the three r’s, plus art and music. I loved school, so I got mostly good marks, and report cards were easy for me to understand, even in first grade. It was, as teachers like to say now, “empowering”, to be able see for myself how well I was doing (or, in the case of science or phys ed, not doing.) If you were really good at something, you got a five. If you were really bad at it, you got a one. If you were in-between, you got a number in-between.

That user friendly rating system also enabled parents to talk easily and confidently with teachers about their children’s progress - or lack of it.

I’m waxing nostalgic here because I’ve just seen what a modern fifth grade Vermont report card looks like - all nine pages of it. There are still numbers - one to four. One means that the child is “not meeting learning expectations,” two means that she is “nearly” meeting them, three means that she needs “occasional support” and four, that she is “meeting learning expectations independently.” But honestly, what child doesn’t need occasional support? Seems to me everybody should get a three.

And what parent wouldn’t need more than occasional support to understand the 16 different categories that measure literacy on this document? We’re told a child who can read aloud, “applies grade level decoding strategies to read unfamiliar words” and “speaks clearly at an understandable pace when reporting sequencing ideas logically.” A child who does arithmetic well “fluently multiplies using the standard algorithm.” This is language that teachers understand, but it may not be all that clear to parents, especially those who for whom English is a second language.

I understand why we have these longer, wordier, more specific report cards, because they do align well with the federally sanctioned standards called the Common Core. And happily, grades are just one of many ways to measure accomplishment these days. Still, when a fifth grader looks at that multi-page document, can he or she actually decipher it?

If so, that child should get a gold star for what I think teachers still call “reading comprehension.”