I’ve always felt guilty about sending home report cards, and I never understood exactly why special educators needed to fill out the exact same report cards as general educators. I’m not referring to the goal progress reports, but the actual report card form that accompanies them.
I feel that when a student who receives special education services (particularly in a moderate/severe setting) is graded on grade-level curriculum, it can appear that he or she isn’t making any progress. As an educator, it’s hard to give low scores when you know how much hard work is going toward building the student’s skills. I’ve always felt like I needed to strike a delicate balance when reporting to parents of students in special education; in spite of the lower academics or scores, I still want them to feel encouraged by what their children are achieving overall.
I realize that schools need to have a consistent report across campus to demonstrate school growth as a whole, and I think some parents appreciate knowing what their students would otherwise be working on, but in the past I never felt that this system was right for my students. Basically I was grading them on what their grade-level peers in general education were working on, which meant that my students received low grades, or “not introduced,” because they just weren’t ready for most grade-level work.
After filling out the reports, I would feel so bad that I would attach a novel-length note to their goal progress reports that went over all the little improvements they had made so their parents could still understand their growth. Every quarter I said things like, “Wait! Don’t get discouraged! Who cares if they can multiply? They can sort!!” Of course I would then explain why sorting is so important, especially considering that their child wouldn’t sit for five minutes at the beginning of the year. But even still, it was always difficult to show just how hard my students were working and how much they were progressing when, in the same envelope, I was handing the parents a report that displayed all the tasks they weren’t ready for or were making improvement toward.
I thought it would be cool if special educators were allowed to break down the general education report card like we do with curriculum so students could be scored on what sub-categories of grade-level subjects they were working on, rather than the subject as a whole. For example, I have had students who were beginning to understand that coins have different values and could count small amounts of money, but they certainly weren’t ready to figure out their change or add large sums together. When it came to the report card, I had to give them a low grade for that area of math, but behind that score so much progress and understanding had taken place!
I’m really hoping things will be different this year at my new school. I will always feel nervous about translating student progress to parents, but one of the benefits of working in a specialized school is that we can somewhat tailor the report cards to our students. We still need to show growth as a class and assess curricular areas, but I am able to spend more time addressing their goals and academic tasks specific to their level rather than grading areas they are not ready for.
I may still need to attach a novel to explain just how much my students have grown, but if it helps parents become as excited about what their students are doing as we are in the classroom, then it’s worth it.