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No more fall report card for Ontario kids

Crystal Rockwood writes her Grade 3 province-wide test.

Derek Ruttan/Derek Ruttan/The Canadian Press

Ontario is axing the fall report card.

The change, which will make the province the only one in Canada to grade all elementary students just twice a year, is the latest evidence of a growing backlash against marking children early, often and on a rigid scale of letters or numbers.

Instead, educators across the country are seeking new ways to evaluate students: Three schools in Edmonton have replaced their fall report cards with "student-led" parent-teacher conferences; Saskatchewan is releasing an in-depth assessment of its student evaluations in February; and Ontario's decision to swap the first report card of the year for an informal progress report is part of a wider change to be unveiled formally next month.

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"Report cards are quick and dirty," said John Myers, a professor at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. "But people give magic to numbers, just like they do to religion. What do I know when I get an A? I know that's better than the kid who got a B."

Ontario's teachers' unions have long advocated for eliminating the fall report card, which they argue comes too early in the school year for teachers to make useful judgments of their students. They also say the fall reports place an unnecessary marking burden on teachers.

"[For fall report cards]teachers only have those students for a maximum of eight weeks before they have to do evaluations and do formal reporting to parents. Those report cards are very intensive, and it's such a short period of time," said Sam Hammond, the president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario.

"This [the mark-free progress report]allows teachers to still communicate with parents … but it sets everything in place for a much more relevant evaluation for that January report card."

However, dropping the fall report card is a concern if it means parents aren't kept in the loop, says Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, an Ontario parents group.

"The fall report is incredibly important. … If there are any issues, you can get a good early warning," she said. "It depends on how detailed that early report is. You would want to know how they're doing in each subject in terms of whether or not they're keeping up with the class."

In a memo sent to principals and administrators earlier this month, the Ontario education ministry outlined a raft of changes schools are expected to implement next year.

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In addition to eliminating the fall report card in favour of a formal progress report to be given out before parent-teacher interviews, the changes place greater emphasis on "learning skills" rather than marks, attempt to make grading consistent across the board and set the wheels in motion for an electronic report card.

Part of the province's "Growing Success" strategy started in 2008 and to be formally released later this winter, the changes strive to make marking both more consistent and more individualized.

They come shortly after the Toronto District School Board announced changes aimed at making the language in its report cards more accessible to parents. The province discouraged schools from providing "comment banks" rather than getting teachers to write their own.

The only thing that would make Liz Kingstone happier about the changes would be if the province axed all three annual report cards, rather than just one. A Montessori teacher and mother of three young sons, she grapples with seven-year-old Henry's report card every time he brings it home and asks her why he didn't get higher marks.

"I would be happy to not be pigeonholed into that B and C group as early in the year as we are. … He's seven and is old enough to want to go through it and compare with his friends.

"But how are you grading a seven-year-old? It just seems crazy."

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