Recently progress reports were sent to parents. No grades. The purpose was to focus on what students have (or not) learned, provide evidence for the learning progress (or gaps) and identify the next steps for further growth.
Teachers invested a good amount of time in developing and writing their comments according to guidelines developed by our assessment committee. Everyone strived to ensure that the comments were individualized and informative in describing learning and suggestions for advancement. It was a piece of information that went beyond the data found in PowerSchool to which students and teachers have full access.
In fact, one progress report arrived at our home for our 13-year old son. For the first time I actually felt like a mailed report from school was communicating something worthwhile. The comments were informative, revealing strengths and suggestions for improvement that, if heeded, will yield better learning practices for our developing student.
Shortly thereafter parents filed into my classroom one after the other for parent-teacher conferences. Most of them had the printed comments in front of them. All of our discussions centered on student progress and how to foster continued growth. Not once were grades mentioned. Not once. It was incredible. Parents handled a child’s poster, a piece of work completed exclusively in class. They perused formative assessments and other assignments that would never have appeared in a backpack or on a table at home. The work demonstrated how well students follow directions, pay attention to detail, and how much they invest in their work. My preparations included plans to veer discussions away from a focus on grades but this topic was not once broached. We had so many more important details to discuss in the precious ten minutes that we shared. The conversation was completely focused on each child’s learning progress and how he/she can become an even better student.
The value of comments-only reporting became even more apparent as discussions among teachers ensued following the conference evening. Others also experienced a similar experience of positive interactions focusing on student learning. Indeed, meaningful narrative is so much more productive than reviewing grades.