There are few if any documents that are met with as much anticipation as the student evaluation. The dreaded report card can create a firestorm of emotion and has a very significant effect on many people.
As a student growing up, I remember often waiting to find out if I had scored well enough to earn some sort of reward, or avoid some sort of punishment. But as a student, I never realized how many other people shared that same feeling heading into report card season, after all, it was my report card and mine alone. The difference between a B and a C could be the difference between getting some movie tickets and $50 – it was a big deal. For our parents, it was also a time in which they would find out how we’d been doing all semester, and how we were acting as citizens within our classrooms. Sometimes their worst fears would be written on that paper, and other times they would greet our report cards with a great sense of accomplishment and pride.
Little did I know then, but behind the scenes there was a teacher and sometimes, their administrators, who was working away at a stack of report cards, trying to find exactly the precise wording for something I was doing to describe a certain situation. Should I use the word “sometimes” or is “often” a better alternative? Or is it “occasionally”? They had their own feelings of dread about report cards. They dreaded the day that they had to start writing, although a bit less than the day in which they were due. And when they were questioned on their use of sometimes/often/occasionally, or some other subjective measure, that is when the real dread set in.
So now as a teacher myself, I’ve learned that the dread teachers and administrators feel is very real. Will there be a backlash from parents and students regarding what is in these evaluations? Is somebody going to take issue with what I have written or how this student has been assessed? And why are they all due right now?
So how do we end the dread when it comes to evaluations?
I’d like to share some strategies for making the end of year evaluation less stressful and more productive for all parties.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of your words. It is important that in the narrative sections, we write about the things that make our students special, unique, and different. This is a time to help describe to the parent who their student is in the classroom. There are often not many opportunities for parents to see their children in this environment. It is important that we as teachers provide a peek into their student’s daily lives.
- Provide clear expectations up front, and revisit them in your assessment. Nothing is more frustrating than being evaluated on something that you did not know was a factor in your evaluation. Be clear with parents and students in your expectations, and provide updates, landmarks, and review opportunities throughout the year.
- Don’t wait until report cards to “report” something. In my previous career as a business manager, I worked with a mentor who advised that he had never fired anybody that did not see it coming. Transferring that logic to a teaching career, if we see a child who may need a little extra help with math, has difficulty making and keeping friends, or is becoming a distraction in class, the exact wrong time to “report” this is on the report card. The student, parent, and administrators all have a vested interest in the success of this student and deserve to know about things as soon as you do. As a team, you can often find a solution. If you’ve sat on something all year, the report card is not the time or place to spring it upon them.
- Avoid use of highly subjective words. Earlier we had discussed the dread around whether a teacher would be called on their use of words like: sometimes, often and occasionally. Here is a tip for using that type of word in report cards—just try to avoid it. How do we determine if someone is sometimes a distraction while another student is occasionally a distraction. Which is worse? I may say that occasionally is less than sometimes, you might say the opposite. Instead of using these subjective words, keep a journal of the issue you want to document and keep it updated. Then you can let the parent infer what they would like from the information. “Bobby has forgotten his math homework on 6 occasions, the most recent being March 5. He forgot this homework 3 times in October” is a different statement than “Bobby used to forget his math homework sometimes, but now only occasionally forgets it”.
- Generalizing over time. If you are going to use a generalization of any kind, make sure that it indicates progressions over time and the steps to take (or taken) to achieve a goal : “At the beginning of the year Bobby was sometimes forgetful of his homework. Bobby has grown much better over time in this area, and it is rarely if ever an issue now. This may be a by-product of the checklist Mom has been giving Bobby every day before leaving, plus Bobby’s new confidence in math creating a sense of pride in his work “
- Have multiple people proofread your evaluations. Don’t keep it to just fellow teachers to read your report cards. Have somebody that is not an educator also read over your comments (black out students names if you must for privacy). I always have my husband read over mine, and he often finds something that either lingo-heavy or doesn’t translate to a parent perspective.
It is important to keep in mind that these evaluations are not only meant to display a student’s progress at a certain point in time, but also help build the foundations of their next learning experiences. For parents, it is important to know where their students are at developmentally and what things they can help with.
Continuing the conversation into the next school year and sharing that previous evaluation as a team (parent/student/teacher) is also a good practice, so keep in mind that your words on that paper are going to go far beyond what you see in front of you today. Great report cards will be posted on the family fridge for months, while bad ones will be dragged back out in the fall to rehash and strategize. You can reduce the stress of report cards for everybody by going into them with a well-constructed plan, a solid foundation for evaluating, and excellent use of the student’s team around them.