Thursday, October 15, 2009

Feedback Is A Two-Way Street - It's Time To Open The Lane For Incoming Traffic


I have been talking a lot lately about one of our biggest shortcomings in public education, the one involving the quality of the feedback we provide to our parents. I wonder constantly why we don't get more input from parents.

From conversation with parents and teachers, there seems to be one common theme that is repeated. The point that is mentioned most often concerns the fact that parents are still not comfortable interacting with school administrators and teachers due to the fact that the only point of reference they have is from when they were students. In most, if not all cases, they were students in a system where the authority of teachers and administrators should never be questioned.

In fact in speaking with a fellow administrator today who has children in another school, we agreed that as parents we too hesitate to question things in schools that our children attend. Why do we do this? What is more important than the education of our children?

So as I continue to dream about a steady flow of ideas and more engagemet from parents on important issues, I can't help looking at some of our practices that contradict the fact that we want more involvement.

Today's example is our Progress Reports. While the message that we deliver is that we want more feedback from parents, the actual product sent home has little valuable information. There is no grade and no specific insight into a student's strengths or weaknesses in a particular subject area. We simply provide a short generic phrase (i.e. student is making satisfactory progress or the student is making unsatisfactory progress). There are other possible comments on the comment bank, but they are no more insightful than the previous two.

As we move forward, we need to look at some of our traditional practices like progress reporting and ask ourselves if these practices are sufficient. In this case specifically, we should reflect on the goal of progress reporting. I would hope that we could agree on the fact that the goal is to provide parents with quality feedback on academic progress. What are the components of a progress report with useful information/feedback? How are we doing here?

I did a couple of blog posts last year on the same subject. We even tried a different format during the second quarter which met with mixed results. I think that there are a number of different areas that we could look at in our school like our progress reporting procedure and ask the question is this the way we should do business in this day and age. Does this procedure really provide an opportunity to engage parents in a meaningful conversation about the progress of their children in our school? What are some of these outdated practices that need to change? If we truly seek the engagement necessary to make our schools the best they can be, we need to start doing away with procedures that hinder engagement (of parents, students, staff...)

Next week we will have our first School Council meeting of the year (6 p.m. in the BHS Office Conference room) and I look forward to continuing the focus on our School Improvement Plan and engaging more stakeholders in the never-ending effort to make our school better.

7 comments:

  1. It would be helpful to our home if an on-line system similar to Arlington Catholic’s MMS Grade Book were implemented where the following information is available by class:
    -current grade point average
    -weekly homework assignments
    -missing assignments
    -teacher comments
    In my view, this would eliminate the need for progress reports.

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  2. The progress report as it stands now, is a meaningless piece of paper. Finding out that your child "is making satisfactory progress" or "is a pleasure to have in class" is utterly ridiculous. I want to really know: How is my child progressing in the absorption of the material? Are all of his/her homework assignments passed in? What areas could use improvement before first term grades come out? What are his/her strengths? What grade does my child have at this point? If progress reports can't address these types of questions, you may as well just do away with them.

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  3. One of my junior's teachers uses www.teacherease.com. This site allows parents to log in to see grades, assignments missed, progress, etc. I was told that Burlington may not have renewed its contract with teacherease and this particular teacher was paying out of pocket for the service because she believed in it so much. It is a valuable tool for communication and feedback and may be the answer to this situation.

    On another note, the GPA's are still not updated for Juniors. As we look to see what colleges our student may be eligible for and where we may want to visit, our only information is the Freshman year GPA. Shouldn't the updated numbers be available by now on Naviance?

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  4. I agree that it would be helpful to have progress reports with more information. I know you mentioned at the Freshman breakfast that an online system will be available by next year which should solve the problem and not even have a need for the reports. I have to admit -- even being prepared on what the progress report was going to look like -- I found myself perplexed as it gives no valuable information. Seems to be a waste of time for the teachers to have to do that and a waste of paper and postage -- the sentences are invaluable. If we are staying to that format until a new one comes next year, I would prefer a straight average over a chosen statement and if that average shocks me, I can reach out to the teacher to talk more.I think everyone can agree or disagree on the proper amount of information but once it's online, the debate to a certain degree could go away, parents can look or not as often as they wish. One thing I have to commend you on is the ability to want to start this discussion and admit it's weakness. It is clear that the progress reports as they stand now are not satisfactory and almost trigger a negative response from the second you open the envelope which I think is the polar opposite of what they are meant to do.

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  5. It is interesting that this post was entitled "Feedback is a Two-Way-Street..." I had sent an email to a teacher regarding the progress report last week and have not received a response. Is there a guideline that the teachers are expected to check and respond to email? Ironically, this teacher provided their email in their open house paperwork. I will attempt to contact her by phone, but it seems inefficient and a waste of my time to send the email in the first place.

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  6. Thanks for the feedback thus far! In response to a couple of items, the GPA's for both the classes of 2011 and 2012 have been updated on Naviance. Please see the post from the BHS Guidance Blog http://burlingtonhsguidance.blogspot.com/2009/10/gpa.html>

    On another issue, we will have a student management system in place next year which will have the capability of allowing parents to log-in to check grades. The only question will be staff training to allow teachers the comfort level for keeping their grades up to date in this new format.

    In regards to teacher-ease, Burlington High has covered the cost for this year for all teachers who are interested in utilizing this service.

    Finally, I cannot discount any of the negative points made about our current progress reporting.

    Thanks again and keep the feedback coming!

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  7. All of the comments submitted have valid and valuable input - it sounds like the upcoming student management system will provide much needed information, such as grade point averages and missing homework assignments. In the meantime, could the current progress report be tweaked to include at least a half-term grade averages and test scores? In the past this has been extremely helpful for my kids - if they see that they are just a point or two away from a higher grade, it does give them incentive to work a bit harder to get there.

    Thanks for giving parents this forum to offer our thoughts, and thanks for listening! I have been very impressed with the open dialogue at the high school - it is very refreshing.

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