Can We Talk 3: 3rd Quarter Report Cards

Ms. Abplanalp and MMSD District Staff (cc’d to the Board of Education),
I read with some confusion your letter [350K PDF] sent to all elementary school parents about the lack of measurable change in students marking period as too small to report to parents on their third quarter report cards.  
Here’s my confusion.  I have complained many times about the lack of communication from MMSD to parents concerning students grades or progress.  At the elementary level the “grade issue” seems to do with the lack of any measurable assessments.  While I know testing is a bad word in the education world I find it amusing that between the end of Jan. and beginning of April,  my two elementary students failed to have any measurable change in their grades.  My 7th grader had a full report card…..with grades and everything.  I’m old at 42, but we used to have report cards come home every 6 weeks. My parents could assess my progress rather well that way, and I got lots of candy from Grandma.  I accept the quarter system as being more practical but seriously…you can’t even accomplish quarterly reports.  
I am wondering why my two elementary students were sent home early on April 4th.  My tax dollars went to pay for what?…..four grades evaluated out of 31 (not including behavior grades).  The teachers spent the time to log onto the computers to tell me about one grade in reading and 3 in math.  My daughter who is in 5th grade tells me lots of social studies and science occurred from Jan. to April but I guess none was graded.  The paper work, the early release, the time spent logging on for four grades has to rank up there with the last day of school with the amount of  waste of tax payer money (last day is one and 1/2 hour of school with bus service and all). 

We do not receive grades for the first quarter.  We get a conference.  Parents can then evaluate their child’s progress after half the year is gone.  Now I get to wait until the year is over.  While I know your response will be if my child is failing her/his teacher would let me know…..I say great but I’d like to know if they are struggling, confused, or just not meeting MY expectations.  
Study after study states a students success is highly correlated with parents expectations.  But since MMSD has taken an attitude that THEY will let me know if my child is failing but not if they do not meet MY expectations a am unsure how I proceed.  My expectations just might be different than yours. 
You set up the schedule for 2005/2006 and you were unable to figure out how to get three report cards home to me during a 9 month period.  This is my 6th year with MMSD and previous years I guess “changes a student experienced between the grade periods” were bigger then. 
My confidence is weakening.         
Mary Kay Battaglia

8 thoughts on “Can We Talk 3: 3rd Quarter Report Cards”

  1. Mary Kay,
    Students create their own meaning in math, literature, science, and all academic subjects, according to the prevailing thinking in the education establishment and the MMSD. Consequently, no one can measure or grade the meaning of a math equation to a particular student. If the student says 2 + 2 equals 5, that’s what the equation means to that student at that particular time. Who’s to say that the student’s personal meaning is right or wrong? Who’s to say that the student gets an A, B, or C for creating his or her own meaning?

  2. This all makes me chuckle. I wrote Sue a two page letter about this report card fiasco-some highlights including 1) huge waste of teacher time, 2) is this union driven? 3) what type of ongoing student progress monitoring is going on in this district that doesn’t measure nine week gains? and 4) huge waste of parent time, not to mention kids if they are in school nine weeks and not learning. I haven’t mailed it because I’m trying to get it to one page, but Mary Kay says it beautifully! Can I “ditto” that? Schools need to be responsible of monitoring student progress on a regular basis. If the tools that they are using to monitor progress are not sensitive to student gains over small amounts of times, then they need to find other tools. At the minimum, what about the old Pretest/Post test information that teachers used to do? When my daugther asked her teacher the other day how she did on the pretest (she actually gave one and grouped!) the teacher told her “she didn’t need to worry about her pretest scores”. Now, how does a student monitor their own progress, how does a parent monitor growth, if we aren’t even allowed to see the scores? I specifically asked our principal to get me actual grades on my daughter from her teacher based on performance for the past nine weeks-particularly in math! It’s not acceptable to me that gains would be too small to measure.

  3. I am a regular reader of this blog and tend to agree with many of the concerns about the current direction of MMSD, particularly with rigor of curriculum, expectations of students, ability to address the needs of all levels of learners in heterogeneous classrooms, etc. However, on the issue of report card process, I find myself with a viewpoint more sympathetic to the what the MMSD has put forth.
    I have two children in elementary school, and I have no problem with the nature of the report cards as they are. These report card formats require quite a lot of work, and are much more extensive than anything that existed in my elementary years (I’m 41 and went to a very good public school system.) As a volunteer in my kids’ classrooms, I have seen how much time it takes the teachers to conduct the assessments needed to complete these report cards’quantative sections.
    I would much prefer to limit that time to the minimum necessary for appropriate monitoring of progress and communication with parents, allowing the teachers to use more of their valuable time with kids doing things of real educational value.
    Is it necessary to test a every child’s reading level every six weeks in order to be able to assign a quantative number to it in the report card? Do they really have to assign a grade that often to their progress is social studies and science?
    I believe I can and should keep a finger on the pulse of our elementary children’s progress by our (parents’ and teachers’) daily interactions with them and by carefully reviewing the work that comes home in their Friday folders. And I trust that the teachers I know would communicate more directly than waiting for a quarterly report card process if any problems seemed to be developing.
    With all of our frustrations, I understand that it is tempting to pile on wherever something may not be exactly ideal. I am adding this perspective because I believe it is important to keep focus on the big issues that need to be addressed with MMSD. And perhaps try to cut some slack where it might be less painful to do so.

  4. I do not believe that it is too much to ask that we get a fully completed report card. That is hardly piling on. A report card is a basic measuring tool of student performance. Would you be satisfied if your employer only completed 10% of your performance evaluation?
    I, like many other parents, monitor the Friday folder closely. My kids are high achievers and both my spouse and I monitor their homework. Overall, I get very little meaningful feedback from the Friday folders.
    If there was not enough time to this quarter to accomplish measurable results – whose fault is that? Isn’t the calendar set by the district? And if there is any truth to this rational, then why were they able to complete full report cards at the middle and high school levels? Why were only the areas measured on the standardized tests graded?
    Parents in this district have a right to know the answers to these questions and to demand accountability from this government agency.

  5. Donna,
    The irony is I walk the halls of my school and I see lot’s of teaching and great instruction going on with the kids. I am not complaining about the teachers. Per Sue the teachers were informed in March that they would only evaluate these four areas and the “program only let them grade these areas”. Sue also stated in her response to me that an analysis of the report card was done and it was decided it did not measure “meaningful progress”. The report card is for the communication to the parents those that show up and those that do not. Last year my child was upset that she was “always behind in Math” She complained in December. I looked at her an realized I was not there for math and did not know how she was doing in math because I DO NOT GET A REPORT CARD TILL JANUARY. For my household a 2 in Math is not acceptable. Maybe for the district it is, but that is my decision not the districts and they should inform me she is getting a 2 in Math before the year is half done. Their response then and now is “We will let you know if she is failing” Failing! Failing! I want to know when she is sinking so I can intervene.
    Yes the Report cards are complicated. Sue responded to say the report card does not measure any change from Jan to March after they did an evaluation. Well guess what, the report card system failed us and they paid once again for a computer program that stinks. My problem is communication, communication, communication to the parents. My beef is not with the teachers but with a district that expects me to send my child to a black hole and they will let me know something when THEY deem it important. I am the classic helicopter Mom and thank goodness I am because otherwise I would never know what is going on.

  6. Thanks for the exchange about report cards.
    I received a return phone call from Sue Ablanalp the morning after I left a voice mail message expressing my dismay about report cards. Sue was courteous and prompt with her reply, and even sent me results of some data-gathering done by a district-wide committee examining grade reporting.
    I politely told her that I’m not buying it. The rationale for the data and, consequently, the data itself are bogus and embarassing.
    Here’s what they did: the committee – made up of elementary teachers, principals, district administrators and union reps – compiled data indicating that, on a regular basis, for the past two years, about 70% or more of elementary students’ progress did not significantly change from the second quarter to the third quarter.
    While that may be interesting information from an assessment perspective, it is a sham that the data are used to justify the cancellation of grading in many subject areas. Professionals familiar with good curriculum development and authentic assessment of students’ progress know that this linkage to the cancellation of some grades is ludicrous.
    Methinks the long arm of MTI has reached in, again, to an area in which it does not belong.
    And, if so, they are completely out-of-touch with some of their rank & file.
    To wit: I am aware of several MMSD educators who were appalled and disgusted by this lame exercise in non-grading. And, they did something about it!
    Some elementary teachers held parent-teacher conferences with families of ALL of their students. Other teachers made up their own – COMPLETE – third quarter report cards.
    I’m not fixated on my kids’ grades. But consider these scenarios:
    1. Your child is one of those kids whose academic progress soared in several areas during the third quarter – academic areas that were not graded on the report card. Rather than receiving that good news, and boosting your child’s self-esteem, you have to wait until the end of the year to find out (officially) about the progress. Or…..
    2. Your child is one of those kids whose academic progress tanked in the third quarter – particularly in the areas not assessed. You know nothing about it until the end of the year!
    More bogus news: Our elementary students had an early dismissal day on April 4. Though on the district calendar from the start of the year, families still had to make arrangements between work and child care. The MMSD reason for the early dismissal? “Grade reporting”
    And, in the past 11 academic quarters, MMSD school days have numbered 44 to 46 days. This past academic quarter was 46 days – one of the longest of the past 11. There was plenty of time to assess progress – whether or not those measurements remained the same or changed is irrelevant to a decision to cancel grading in some academic areas.
    Finally, I love our schools and our kids teachers. So many of the teachers care deeply about their vocation and our kids. Having been licensed as a public school district superintendent, and having served as a district administrator, building principal and classroom teacher – from the pre-k to 12 levels – I am well-aware of the labor intensity of grading.
    It comes with the territory of teaching. It is a minimum expectation that teachers – REGULARLY – report on the academic progress of the students in their charge to those kids’ families.
    So many of us don’t have the option of going to our employers and saying, “you see, it’s like this…since I don’t like doing paperwork, I’m just not going to.”
    Bear in mind, this does NOT represent ALL MMSD teachers, as evidenced by the good work of so many of them in reporting third quarter progress.
    Keep after this issue with the district.
    I am!
    – Michael Maguire
    Madison, WI

  7. Michael,
    Maybe MTI is behind it and rightly so. Much of this comes down to time.
    Teachers are required to assess children on their reading assessment in the third quarter. This, and not the 4th quarter assessment is used by SAGE and other district data. This is very time consuming and takes away from instructional time, and since there is no compensation, unlike at the beginning and end of the school year, the shortened report card is given.
    The PLAA – reading assessment – is a long process especially for Kindergarteners. It is not unusual for this to take 45 minutes per student although it is certainly faster with some kids. In the spring and the fall there is one day to assess both PLAA and PMA (math). Most teachers use this for the PMA. That means three times a year – at minimum – the PLAA is given to all students. From my experience this averages out to about 2 weeks of no reading instruction per test. That means in a given school year children are not instructed in reading for about six weeks.
    The reality is everything on the report card is from assessments during class time. There is a trade off – if teachers did an in depth assessment on everything on the report card it would be a 50 instruction / 50 assessment ratio. I don’t think you’d argue that would be a good trade off.
    At third quarter you received the PLAA assessment which is what many parents are really interested in. You did not receive scores from a dictated writing sample until the 4th quarter. You did not receive scores on all math standards, but that makes some sense since the PMA is not given until 4th quarter. Many teachers especially in K/1 focused their math comments on number fact fluency. Overall I believe it was a decent trade off.
    What teachers really need to do the testing in the least instructionally intrusive way is 6 assessment days a year. Until the district acknowledges this there will be these trade offs.

  8. Henry,
    I don’t disagree with your comments about the amount of time some of the specific assessments take, but I don’t share your conclusions.
    Since instruction is driven by ongoing assessment, we should be able to identify whether a student is or is not proficient in a given area without creating a lot of extra work for ourselves. Some areas may have an N/A if not covered during third quarter (most likely in math, science, or social studies when specific content is addressed in class and on the report card).
    Personally, I find that the current structure creates more work rather than less work. I tend to weight my first semester math instruction towards computation, fact fluency and story problem skills. I move into fractions and geometry during the third quarter. Frustratingly, there is no place on the report card for me to record student grades, and I therefore have to include very lengthy narratives to communicate what we covered and what the student achieved. To top it off, I then have to go back and fill in all of those 3rd quarter grades when they finally show back up on the 4th quarter report card (in addition to reporting student progress on the more recent areas of work). At least 3rd quarter we are given some release time to work on all those report cards–I could do without the extra work during the busy end of the year time.
    I do think, however, that report cards are much more time consuming than it may appear to others from the outside. If I leave that half day with 1/5 of my work done, I consider it a very productive afternoon. The rest has to be done in the evenings and during planning time–after I finish prepping for instruction the next day.

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