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High-tech report cards

The furor over the ICAN ‘progress statements’ is a good example of the good old days of public education clashing with the new high-tech world of accountability. It’s a bit like comparing the education your grandparents got in a rural one-room schoolhouse to that which one gets in today’s large, modern elementary school that’s full of little computer-savvy kids who play with Gameboys and Palm Pilots and show their parents how to work the DVD player.
This newspaper has recently received a number of lengthy, impassioned letters to the editor about the maddening complexities of ICAN ‘progress statements.’ The statements go on for pages of technical Professional Educator Speak, as opposed to the old simple report cards whereby teachers gave their students an A, B, C, D or F, depending on how they did in a particular subject. Report cards also provided a few teacher judgments on the kid’s growth habits and attitudes, noted punctuality, told how many days they were in school, and how many days they missed. There was a section for the teacher to write down some personal comments to the worried parents about little Johnny’s social and behavioral problems. The report cards were easy to read, easy to digest, and adequate for that day and age.
My, how times have changed.
We live in a supercharged, supercomputed and super-competitive world in which much is expected of public schools and much is demanded of teachers and administrators, especially by those people who put great stock in preparing children for college and the demands of high-tech professions. Politicians have not failed to take an interest in public education. They insist on good results, and they want to see progress. It seems that every politician, on state and federal levels, wants to improve the education system, and each administration wants to put its stamp on a program that can be shown to be successful. No one involved in education wants to be connected to a program that’s ranked near the bottom or last. The pressure is intense on everyone involved.
ICAN is one result of all this official desire to succeed. It’s a research-based computer program that enables teachers to assess students on a wide range of efforts, which all seem to have obscure names, as they prepare to take state tests in several grades.
As Charles Ewry pointed out in a front-page story last week, instead of getting a B in English, little Johnny might get a ‘demonstrated’ in one learning category called ‘makes brief narrative presentations.’ We hope little Johnny understands what that means.
Little Johnny’s report card now goes on for pages, and instead of As and Bs, he’s getting a ‘demonstrated,’ or ’emerging’ or ‘ongoing’ in a host of learning areas. It takes teachers hours to make all these determinations for their children and prepare the ‘progress reports’ for loading into the computer. So, some teaching duties are handed over to the teacher’s aid, which makes parents even more upset. It’s all very confusing. At first.
We don’t think the school systems have done a good job of preparing the public ‘ especially what appears to be a sizeable number of discerning parents ‘ for these new ways of assessing student progress in the grade schools. School administrators and teachers probably don’t think we’ve done a good job of telling our readers about all the changes, which, like the Energizer Bunny, just keep coming and coming and coming.
Everyone in their right mind wants our public schools to be as good as possible and produce well-prepared students who will succeed later in the real world. But as we get more sophisticated in our teaching techniques and equipment, the state demands quantifiable results, and the old-fashioned report cards are one thing that’s falling by the wayside.
We assume that changes in the educational system will continue to happen and be modifed according to current education trends as long as we have parents who insist on good schools and politicians who insist on establishing higher standards and accountability. Systems that don’t work will be discarded; new systems will take their place, and they may be equally confusing at first.
Parents who don’t understand the new standards that are now required by state and federal law should make an appointment with their child’s teacher. It might not be a bad idea for each school to have an evening where the superintendent or principal could explain all this for the parents and answer all their questions. If that’s already been done, and parents are still confused, it might be time for some reinforcement.

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