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The bare minimum on report cards 'is not acceptable,' minister tells Ontario teachers

Teachers and education workers leave Queens Park after attending a rally outside the provincial legislature on August 28 2012 to protest against a controversial bill that would impose wage freezes on Ontario teachers.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's Education Minister has asked elementary teachers not to compromise students' fall progress reports, but union leaders are standing by advice to their members to cut back on comments.

Union leaders have been directing their members to do the bare minimum on fall progress reports set to come home with school children in the coming weeks. That includes checking boxes to describe whether a child is progressing "well," "very well" or "with difficulty" and then limiting written remarks to one sentence.

The Education Minister urged teachers not to follow that advice.

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"It is important for parents to know how their children are doing ... The bare minimum is not acceptable for the students of this province," said Laurel Broten.

Ms. Broten spoke to Sam Hammond today, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, and explicitly asked him to withdraw the directive.

"We did not reach agreement on our call," Ms. Broten told reporters on Thursday.

But Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, said he'd already had a call from at least one Toronto-area parent whose child had come home with a comment-free report card.

"Parents need timely information about their child's progress," said the school trustee and father of six. "We're hoping that this is the exception and the rule. Report cards are an important extension of teachers' role."

The move comes as teachers are ramping up their efforts to show their displeasure with the provincial government, expanding Monday protests known as "McGuinty Mondays" that have kept teachers away from staff meetings and conferences to include Tuesdays.

Union leaders are stopping short of making public announcements, advising their members to do only as much as they are motivated to do beyond the requirements of the job.

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Fall report cards were recently revised to eliminate marks and emphasize progress through comments. Teachers began drafting them this month and some of the work is often done on volunteer time, especially when teachers take the time to write lengthier comments.

Teachers aren't required to fill the space on report cards: They can meet the Ministry of Education's minimum requirements by inserting a single sentence. Comments can be labour-intensive, with many teachers working over the weekend and into the evenings to complete them. Some school boards give teachers professional development time to write report cards, but legislation enacted by the provincial government this fall cut back on teachers' professional development days, making three of them unpaid, or volunteer.

Teachers have been pulling back on volunteer activities – things like coaching, clubs and parent teacher meetings – since early September in protest of that legislation, Bill 115, which forces a wage freeze, cuts their sick days and limits their right to strike.

"We're being told to make our own decision [about comments]," said one elementary teacher at the Upper Grand District School Board.

"We can meet the ministry expectation, but not go into any detail," said another elementary teacher from the Peel District School Board.

Both asked that their names not be used.

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About the Authors
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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