Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Parent-Teacher Conferences WITHOUT Report Cards

By Peter DeWitt — November 06, 2011 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Report cards have long been the focal point of the first parent-teacher conference of the school year. In the mind of the teacher, as well as the parent, it always made sense to have the report card sitting front and center as they discussed the academic progress of a child. However, instead of making grading the focus of the conversation, many school districts are making the student the center of attention by having parent teacher conferences without the report card.

Over the past few years some school districts, including the one where I am a principal, are taking a new approach to parent-teacher conferences by leaving the report card out of the conversation. To some educators this may sound like an odd way to approach parent-teacher conferences but there are more benefits than drawbacks.

School districts are trying to focus on student work, portfolios and social emotional issues. Some teachers and principals may find this approach uncomfortable but if they teach in grades 3-8 they still have plenty of other data through the use of pre-tests, post-tests and progress monitoring to discuss if they need numbers to back up their conversation. More importantly, without the report card looming over the conversation, parents and teachers can truly take time to focus on the whole child.

What Do We Discuss?
The parent-teacher conference does not have to focus on the report card. Report cards symbolize grades and successes and failures. When grades are printed on a paper and handed to a parent, the conference takes a shift. As a teacher you may not always want to hand out a paper to students before you give the directions because you understand that the students are paying attention to the paper and not to you. The same issue can happen in a conference.

If a parent sees a bad grade before the teacher has the opportunity to get the conference started, the conference has already begun at a disadvantage. The focal point becomes the bad grades and not the learning that the student is experiencing. We all know that school is about so much more than grades.

At the conference, teachers can have great discussions with parents regarding the self-esteem of the child or their social interactions with peers. In addition they can focus on the reading level of the student or whether the child has great skills in math.

A parent-teacher conference without the report card requires a shift in thinking for parents as well. Most parents attend meetings expecting to see the dreaded report card in the middle of the table. It would be a great time to ask the parent how they think their child is doing in school as well as ask if there are any questions that they need to ask of the teacher.

I realize that not all report cards provide bad news. There is a great deal of good information written on the report card as well. However, most adults focus on the areas of improvement before they focus on any of the strengths. A good conversation about the whole child outweighs any conversation about a report card.

Holding the Report Card Hostage
I once worked with a teacher who would hold report cards and not give them to students if their parents did not attend the parent-teacher conference. Although I understand the importance of discussing a child’s academic progress, many times the teacher would have the report card for many months because the parents would not schedule an appointment.

Holding the report card hostage seemed to be more of an issue for the teacher than the parent. The parent didn’t really care about getting the report card, which infuriated the teacher even more. I often wonder if the relationship between the teacher and the parent, therefore the student, would have been different if the report card wasn’t a part of the conference. Did the parent think they were only going to receive bad news?

How many parent-teacher conferences are the first meetings between a parent and teacher? Sometimes parents cannot attend Open House and take a night off from work so they can attend the parent conference. Does the first meeting have to include the conversation about grades? Does this conversation help or hurt the parent-teacher relationship? How many conferences could focus on the whole child instead of the grades of a child?

In the End
Report cards are clearly important. Our parents kept our report cards for decades and hand them down to us when we reach adulthood. However, how early is too early to focus solely on the report card? Do we, as educators, focus on the report card and discuss low grades too early?

I worry that we give grades to students at a young age which can be very discouraging. A student in first or second grade knows what a 65 on a spelling test means. Does the low grade get them to work harder in pursuit of a higher grade? Or does it make them feel defeated?

Having conferences without report card requires a shift in thinking for educators and administrators but it is a worthwhile pursuit. We should not teach students at a very young age that school is all about report cards and grading. We should teach them it’s about learning experiences that help us find our strengths and strengthen our weaknesses.

Follow Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center & Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Hundreds of Conn. Bus Drivers Threaten to Walk Off the Job Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 200 school bus drivers could walk off the job in response to a vaccination mandate that goes into effect Monday.
1 min read
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk.
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk. <br/>
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)