Elimination of Ontario’s Fall Report Card Part of Trend
Just one more reason I’m moving to Canada…
While Ontario’s education minister says a decision to eliminate fall report cards for elementary school students and replace them with kinder, gentler progress assessments is intended to give teachers time to evaluate students before issuing a letter grade, the change drew flak from critics who said pupils do not need to be shielded from the reality of grades.
A ministry memo sent this month said fall report cards would be replaced by progress reports, leaving the formality of issuing letter grades until January, six months into the school year.
The change, to take effect September 2010, is part of a shift in assessing student learning success that matches the industry’s trend away from stringent grading systems toward a less abrasive system of evaluation.
Ontario will be the first region in Canada to issue two, as opposed to the unofficial standard of three, graded elementary school report cards. But many school districts across the country are now putting emphasis on “progressive” methods of evaluation.
Saskatoon school divisions started considering limiting the emphasis on high school marks last year, while elementary schools in the city’s catholic school system focus on descriptive feedback. Similar projects are active in Alberta.
Quebec returned in recent years to report cards with percentage grades, leading teachers unions to push for a return to less specific general method.
Ontario says the new move is not one to reduce accountability, but to address a problem of timing.
“At the beginning of the year, do we want to assign a grade that indicates that somehow something has been completed, or do we want to say, ‘this is the beginning of the process?'” Ontario education minister Kathleen Wynne said in an interview on Tuesday.
“In this first report card, what we want is a conversation between home and school.”
Doretta Wilson, executive director of the Society for Quality Education, said she doesn’t agree that professional teachers are unable to evaluate a student in that time, nor does she agree with the trend away from concrete grading.
“We keep trying to protect kids from these letter grades. We have to have a way of measuring. Are inches and centimetres harsh when we are talking about height? Or pounds and kilos when we are talking about weight?” she said. “I don’t know why suddenly we have this sense that we shouldn’t be measuring how kids do. How will we know how they do unless we measure where they are starting from?”
Annie Kidder, the executive director of the parent advocacy group, People for Education, said a number of concerns arise from axing the year’s first report card. Among them is how to ensure parents are kept aware of their children’s early progress.
But Mary-Lou Donnelly, president of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, and a former Nova Scotia teacher and principal, said that province has been using “progressive report cards” as opposed to a “set in stone” letter grade for years.
“Assessment is very complex, it’s not just a right or a wrong and a test mark. It is an accumulation of how the student is doing in many, many different areas,” she said.
“Letter grades make people feel good or they make people feel not good, depending on what the letter grade is, but a parent doesn’t have an understanding of what the child can and can not accomplish or what they are working toward.”
Ontario’s teachers’ unions have long requested schools do away with the fall report card, suggesting they come too early in the year to properly gauge a student’s level of growth.
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario almost went on strike in 2005, the central issue being out-of-class prep time.
By killing the November grading process, teachers are expected to save 30 to 60 of those out of class hours, which will now be used communicating directly with the parent.
“[We] think it is a very positive step forward in terms of removing that fall report card and replacing with a progress report,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. “It has to do with the short period of time in the fall that teachers have to make a good assessment and evaluation of a student’s progress and work.”
Mr. Hammond said teachers only have a six- to eight-week period after students return to class in September to evaluate them and issue a letter grade in November.
The new progress report will be released in late November, issuing students an “excellent,” “good,” “satisfactory” or “needs improvement” in subject areas along with teacher comments about students’ strengths and areas to work on.
Elementary school students will receive two letter graded report cards in January and June.