When I was little, I remember hand carrying my report card in a sealed manila envelope home for my parents to open. Since I was a compliant and eager student, I waited with anticipation and pride to share my grades with them. Aside from graded work coming home and the twice a year parent teacher conferences, that is all the feedback they had on my progress at school. But, there was that piece of paper in the sealed envelope to communicate in writing the status of my learning. I remember comments, lots of comments, by my teachers about the quality of my work, my social skills, and my attitude towards learning.
Not much changed by the time I got to high school. If I remember correctly, our report cards arrived in the mail. The grading system was simple: 90-100 was an A, 80-89 was a B, 70-79 was a C and so on. Courses were structured on an eight period schedule and most students took classes according to their grade level and track. I lived in New York State and there was a General Diploma and a Regents Diploma. We also had honors and a few select AP classes if you were talented in a specific subject area. I graduated 12th out of 326 students with a regents diploma. Not bad. I’m proud of how I performed and how the information was shared with my parents.
Paperless Grades and Conferences: Is Going Green a Good Thing?
Over the course of the years my boys have been in school, grading practices and more significantly, the communication of their grades has changed drastically! Part of the reason I can note the change is that I’ve had a child in our K-12 public school for the last nineteen years! This is due to the spacing of my children, all boys. For many years, while my first child was in school, there existed a “report card day.” It was the day, at the end of the term, when the report card was sent home. The teachers knew the day because they worked hard to get the grades and comments all recorded. The students knew the day because they went to school with either a sense of anticipation or dread, depending on their individual circumstance. And, you can be sure the parents knew the day, as they were excitedly given the manila envelope by a proud child or had to ask for it from someone who knew they should have tried harder.
Ah, yes, report card day! Our boys grades were never a surprise for my husband and I. We regularly looked at their work that was returned home (much like our parents had looked at ours), and had a good sense of how they were all doing. We have been fortunate to have hard-working students, who performed well at school. In the early years, when report cards were sent home in our student’s backpacks, they were told to not open them before giving them to their respective adults. Our boys followed suit and we opened them together. It was a day of excitement and pride in our home and probably many other’s we knew.
Then, came the digital age. Slowly, over the last few years, report cards and mid-term grades have stopped being mailed home by the district for middle school and high school students. In the last two years, there has been no paper copy whatsoever. If you wanted a report card, you went to the online grading platform and clicked on the end of term report. There, you could print a report card. The end of term report card is not an anticipated day any longer, just a regular school day with another test.
Yesterday, the last vestige of paper copies of grades disappeared. It was the first parent teacher conference day at our high school. Usually, upon arriving, parents/guardians would receive a “mid-term” report with a grade listed for each class your student was taking and the name of their teacher. You then used this sheet to guide you through conferences – which in our school are held in common rooms, not the classrooms. As we left the house, I informed my husband that we would not receive this piece of paper. I asked him if I needed to print one at home before we left. In the spirit of compliance and being green, we went to school without the paper.
For us, it was easy. Our son (the youngest) is a junior. He is taking four courses in the blocked format that our school uses. But, I saw some confusion. Parents with more than one child at the high school needed to remember at least eight teachers names, probably more. I kindly reminded one person in a state of confusion that the office staff had offered to print out the mid-term report if needed for parents who stopped by requesting one. At least one of the teachers we spoke with was surprised that parents were not being provided this information, as had been done in the past. As parents, we all (well, most of us, but not all and that is kind of my point, too) also have access to the digital grade book and can use our smartphones to access our students’ grades.
We know this was done in the spirit of “being green.” However, I have said it before and I’ll say it again, I think we all are missing something when we do not have a designated report card day and able to see that grade written or at least typed on paper. Call me old-fashioned, it’s been done before. It’s okay. But, we’ve removed some of the pride from students that existed when the brought home great grades on paper and we’ve also removed the dread of sharing a poor grade with an adult who expected more. I’ve written before about the demise of anticipation and dread. With the deletion of this last single slip of paper, I think we’ve successfully buried both.
In my opinion there is actually more to be considered here. These are things like transparency, responsibility, motivation, and personalization with regards to teacher comments on the report cards. They are issues that could be argued either way, successfully. One thing is for sure, the digital age has changed education. Whether it’s in the name of being green or the darkness of enabling easy ignorance, remains to be seen.
This post is part of Slice of Life: Tuesdays, a blog forum hosted by TwoWritingTeachers.org where a community of educators and interested writers share ideas about life and education. I have been an active part of this supportive community since March 2017. Thank you for offering this opportunity to share.