JAMES DINN, M.H.A.
District of St. John’s Centre
November 3, 2020
The Honourable Tom Osborne
Minister of Education
Dear Minister Osborne:
I urge you to immediately cancel formal Term 1 report cards for primary and elementary students for the 2019-2020 school year. Doing so will remove an enormous source of stress for teachers and students and will allow teachers to bridge grade level learning gaps, achieve learning outcomes for the current year, and focus on social-emotional learning as they have been mandated to do.
This decision cannot wait until December. Report cards typically go out by December 1 which means primary/elementary teachers will need to have report cards completed by November 20 if they are to go out the week of November 30. Teachers will have to start the process within the next week if they are to meet these deadlines. To benefit teachers and students, the decision needs to be made now.
To be clear, I am not asking that all formal evaluation be cancelled for the year, just the formal Term 1 report card process. Assessment and evaluation will still take place, and parents will still be informed of their children’s progress. During this unprecedented Covid-19 school year, cancelling the report card is vital if teachers and students are to navigate the new health measures and engage in meaningful learning.
As a recent CBC report indicated, this year is proving to be especially stressful on teachers. It noted “Many of the respondents indicated they’re feeling burned out, exhausted, and afraid, as they cope with being in classrooms during Covid-19.” The findings and such comments are not surprising, and echo the comments teachers have made to me. Based on my own experience as a teacher and NLTA president I predicted as much.
And no wonder. Teachers have been asked to undertake a Herculean task. Covid-19, school bussing issues, extra supervision duty, more preparation, and a plethora of confusing classroom and school protocols significantly increased demands on teachers. New Covid-19 protocols are already contributing to a loss of instructional time and making the task of bridging learning gaps resulting from the shortened 2019-2020 school year that much more challenging.
At the beginning of the year, teachers were told they would have to implement programs to address mental and emotional health needs of students through social emotional learning, as well as ensuring their physical safety. This mandate and the challenge of meeting curriculum outcomes while bridging learning gaps, makes completing Term 1 report cards an enormous task at this time. Teachers could better spend classroom instruction to continue to meet outcomes and overcoming the challenges of time lost during Covid-19, rather than scrambling to get all assessments completed for report cards. Given these circumstances, now is not the time for report cards. The cancellation of Term 1 report cards would grant teachers the time needed to set all students up for success. Two reporting periods in February and June would be sufficient for formal report cards.
As one teacher commented to me, “Significant adaptations were made to the daily school routine in response to Covid-19; we need to see similar adaptations reflected in report card expectations.”
Reporting Process for Primary/Elementary Report Cards
Primary/Elementary report cards are time consuming and laborious for teachers at the best of times. The typical report card requires: (a) an assessment in Language, process piece of writing, a demand piece of writing, and a reading record. All must be evaluated and placed in the child’s Literacy Portfolio. (b) Math work samples and assessment for the units that are to be completed based on curriculum timelines 2-3 Math units. (c) Evaluation of in-class work, projects, activities and discussions for all other subjects; Science, Socials, Art, Religion and Health. (d) Assess behavioural and social indicators, wellbeing and belonging, social contribution and communication. (e) Then there are the written comments that address behaviour, Math, Reading, Writing and areas to work on in the next term.
The reading record is a significant portion of the Literacy portfolio. The teacher has a kit of reading materials levelled and unfamiliar to the child. Using her professional judgement, the teacher determines at what level the child should be and starts the child off reading at that level. While the child reads the text unprompted, the teacher records any errors, mispronunciation, omissions, difficulties, reading strategies and so on. The teacher follows up with questions on each text to assess comprehension. Finally, the teacher must score the child’s performance. This is repeated with each text until the child reaches his/her frustration level and the teacher determines the child’s reading level. This can take half an hour or more and several sessions per child depending on the child’s ability.
The above process, does not take into account the preparation time involved to ensure all books and score sheets are in kit. Remember, teachers do not have executive assistants or support staff to help them in this area.
Furthermore, reading records are completed while the rest of the class is present. I can tell you that unlike a high school class, it is not a simple matter to tell primary and elementary students to open their books, assign seat work, and expect them to sit still while the teacher completes a reading record on one student. It can even be a distraction to the student being assessed.
Sometimes in previous years, teachers doubled up classes and took turns completing reading records for their classes. Think of the supervision and safety challenges and the loss of instructional time of this process in a regular year. Now think of the implications for this year where there are extra demands placed on teachers to make sure Covid-19 measures are followed and students are safe. Think of the loss of instructional time where teachers are struggling to bridge any grade level gaps as a result of the early closure of school last year. Schools are not the controlled environment many of your officials claim it to be.
The Report Card
Once all of these assessments are finished, report cards must still be completed on-line. Each report card can take a teacher anywhere from an hour to two hours to complete, depending on the child and his/her progress. This I can attest to from watching my primary teacher wife complete them. Of course, this assumes the system is working, connectivity is optimal, and the system doesn’t crash, resulting in the loss of data.
Once report cards are successfully uploaded, school administrations read through every report card and suggest changes to wording where necessary. Once teachers make the changes, the report cards are printed, along with any accompanying documentation for distribution to parents.
Now more than ever, we need to trust the professional judgement of our teachers. Primary and elementary teachers have their students in front of them all day. Evaluation takes place daily - formally and informally - and teachers are in constant contact with parents whether through, email, phone call, or a note home in the child’s back pack. Normally, teachers would meet during curriculum night and later during face to face parent-teacher interviews. Primary and elementary teachers schedule meetings with all parents, especially for the first term. This year, teachers will have to hold these interviews virtually or by phone. The fact is, however, teachers and parents will meet, and parents will be informed of their children’s progress at these meetings. Primary/Elementary teachers will be in a position to update parents based on their own observations and regular in-class assessments without engaging in the formal process described above.
Cancelling formal Term 1 report cards for this year will free up valuable instructional time to allow teachers to bridge grade level and other learning gaps as well as meet the outcomes for the current grade. More importantly, it will allow teachers to focus on social-emotional learning and ensuring the mental and physical well-being of their students and themselves are nurtured. Let our teachers get our schools to June 2021 safely; we can determine what to do with the 2021-22 school year at that time. I again urge you to cancel formal Term 1 report cards for this school year.
I am available if you would like to discuss this further. I look forward to your decision on this important matter for teachers and students.
James Dinn M. H. A.
Tony Stack, CEO / Director of Education, Newfoundland and Labrador English School District
Don Coombs, President, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils
Dean Ingram, President, Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association
Robert Gardiner, Deputy Minister of Education
Craig Pardy, Education Critic for the Official Opposition
Kim Christianson, Directrice de L’Education Conseil Scolaire Francophone Provincial de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador