How is My Child Really Doing? A Few Thoughts on Progress Reports

science collage

How are they doing?

Progress reports will be sent out this Monday, and at Baker these narrative reports touch on all aspects of children’s learning experience – their progress in academic areas, their socio-emotional growth and developing competencies in peer relationships, and challenges that they are experiencing. Baker progress reports are detailed pictures of teachers’ observations of each child. Our mid-year reports aim to provide a balanced, honest picture of the child in motion, while the end of year reports are summative in nature.

These detailed pictures of children are a rich benefit of your experience at Baker. You’ve chosen a preschool and an elementary/middle school that does not block out weeks of classroom time for standardized tests, nor do we give a letter grade at the end of a semester, so, in reading progress reports you may say to yourself, this sounds great, but how is my child really doing? Or, when my child goes to Latin, Parker, New Trier, ETHS, to name a few schools to which Baker students matriculate, how will they compare with their peers?

Multiple Measures Provide a Picture of a Child’s Growth

Progress reports at Baker focus on each child and are not comparative in nature. Each child is measured against herself or himself, and the focus of the reporting is on personal growth and development at this particular point in the year.

In order to understand children and their growth, we use different assessments. Each assessment provides us with a discrete picture, and each has its own benefits and limitations. We use measurements that allow for us to monitor a child’s progress in reading and math over the course of the year, and as the children move into the fifth grade, we use a standardized assessment, NWEA’s MAP test, which adjusts to each child’s performance and allows for teachers and learning specialists to monitor year over year growth.

Observation is an essential practice of a skilled progressive teacher, and observations and assessments teachers create within the course of the class allow for them to measure students’ growth in many skills and competencies we expect them to develop.  At Baker, we also use different documentation tools over the course of the year to provide children the opportunity to reflect on their progress and plan their next goals.

Tips for Conversations with Children

Depending upon the age and readiness of their children, families choose whether and how to share progress report information with them. As your child grows, this sharing can be really powerful.  In whichever way you frame a reflective conversation with your child, here are a few strategies I would offer:

  1. Talk about your child’s strengths and the way those strengths can help-

At Baker, progress reports aim to show a balanced picture of children in this setting, their strengths and challenges. Strengths matter and teachers have taken the time to note the ways they shine. In her video series, The Science of Receiving Feedback, Sheila Heen states that when most of us ask for feedback in the context of our workplace, what we really are asking for is admiration. We want to hear that our work matters, that we do it well, and that those in positions of power value us.

While we want to understand our children’s challenges, often, as parents, we also really want to hear about their successes – their growth in mathematical understanding, the questions they ask in their science investigations, and the positive ways they have been working with their peers. Similarly, students want to hear that their contributions matter and that their teachers value their contributions. When children hear their strengths acknowledged, they build the courage and confidence to continue to engage wholeheartedly.

2.    Talk about areas for growth in the context of a growth mindset

The beauty of our newest understandings about how the brain grows has put to an end the notion that intelligence is genetically fixed. Rather, we understand that difficulty, challenge, even forgetting, provide opportunities for cognitive growth. If the human brain is more malleable than scientists originally thought, particularly in distinct developmental stages, then there is a compelling reason for students to face challenge directly. In the growth mindset, effort is integral to mastery, so students with a growth mindset often persist in the face of obstacles because they view a challenge as an essential part of the brain’s growth. Challenge becomes the means for high levels of achievement.

3.    Encourage children to have the “I need more clarification” conversation.

At Baker,  we have many opportunities for parents and teachers and children to engage in informal and formal conversations throughout the year, and progress reports are an important part of this conversation. As a school leader, I give and receive a lot of feedback and I like to think of receiving feedback as the beginning rather than the end of the conversation.

Heen suggests that feedback has both a past and a future. This is helpful to remember when feedback feels unclear. Let’s say that a seventh grader is left scratching her head after her teacher wrote that she “should push [herself] to actively engage in the class.” The student might think, “I come to class every day. I work hard. I haven’t missed a homework assignment in months. What does this mean?” All too often feedback ends in confusion. But, thinking about the past and the future of feedback would allow the student to question her past behavior, “What does it look like when I am not actively engaged in the class?” and look to the future, “What would it look like to you if I were taking this advice? What would I be doing?” Progress reports become the catalyst for important conversations.

At Baker, our work is in partnership with you. You have a deep understanding of your children’s disposition and growth over their lifetime, and we have a particular understanding of their disposition within the school setting.  Our progress reports continue the conversation started when your child arrived at Baker. We’ll look forward to sharing these with you next week and continuing this important dialogue.