Report cards are useless without the teacher's comments

"At this point, I want to give everyone involved in this mess a big fat F."

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Photo: iStockphoto

Surprise, surprise. Toronto students will be receiving their report cards after all. Despite a work-to-rule campaign by the teachers’ union that forbade them from entering students’ marks into computer systems, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) revealed it is hiring staff to input grades. The report cards will be mailed out the week of July 13. However, all the Ontario report cards will be bare bones this year, filled in with only a letter grade and no personalized comments.

Until today, I thought we wouldn’t know what my nine-year-old daughter’s final marks were going to be and, to be honest, we didn’t really care. I’m finding it hard to muster enthusiasm for a report card devoid of any context. A letter grade means nothing to me, but I know some parents, especially those with kids in middle school, will be relieved to see something on the report cards.

The report card debacle is just one more thing to remind parents that kids are caught in the middle of a labour dispute with no end in sight. Reaction to the work-to-rule campaign has been divided, which comes as no surprise. If you want to see people arguing about this topic, just take a peek at any social media outlet.

We are a parent body beleaguered by work-to-rule campaigns and strike threats. I hear rumours of a high school strike for September, as well as more labour unrest for elementary kids. Parents (and students) are being manipulated by the union and the government, with each side trying to paint the other as the bad guys. As usual, it’s the kids who lose out.

Right now, anger is directed at the report card issue. I’ve seen some comments claiming that only status-obsessed Torontonians were upset about not receiving report cards. However, I disagree. For me, it’s not about the marks but the conversations that report cards help generate. Reports give you an opportunity to discuss strengths and weaknesses and set goals for the next year with your children. But since the teachers were told by the union not to write any comments, the report card has little value other than a keepsake.

I know rote report card comments are not truly helpful, but my daughter hasn’t done well this year, and perhaps the comments addressing her strengths would have buoyed her into the next year. Before you get on your high horse and state that parents should be in contact with their kids’ teachers all year round, please remember not all parents are able to have frequent contact with teachers. For some, report cards may be the only way to really understand how their kids are doing. (Toronto’s school boards are overwhelmingly complex—there are more than 80 different languages spoken by students, and in Peel Region 30 percent of students are in ESL programs.)

But this isn’t really about report cards. The union, the government, the negotiators, the administration and whoever else is involved in this big mess—they aren’t concerned with the conversations I have with my kids about education strategies. They’re more concerned with making each other look bad and winning the PR war.

I fully support teachers and their need for prep time, and I believe that most of them have the kids’ best interests at heart. But I have to say that I recoiled when I read Sam Hammond, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) union president, say there was no reason for school boards to “deprive” parents of the information “they deserve” when it was his union that ordered teachers not to enter grades or comments in the first place. However, I’m not giving the government a free pass either—they all get a failing grade in my book. I don’t want to be manipulated by PR strategists; I just want the system to work so that students in Ontario get the education they need and deserve.

I worry this situation will make our kids cynical about education. When students hear their parents or their teachers griping, I believe it affects their attitude—and desire—to learn. I don’t care if I never know my daughter’s final grade in math this year, but I do want everyone involved in the education system to take a time out and figure out their priorities.

At this point, I want to give everyone involved in this mess a big fat F.

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.

Read more:
What parents really think about report cards>
Why report cards get an F>
No report cards for many Ontario students>

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