I Usually Do Well At This Sort Of Thing

This week we got the Captain’s first Grade One report card. It is such a mysterious document. I mean, the letter grades are there and I guess that’s fairly straightforward. But reading through the comments is like reading a foreign language.

I’m guessing that Board guidelines, formulated so as to not offend anyone ever, instruct the teachers to couch all their real comments in such convoluted sentences as to be completely misunderstood. You have to read each sentence at least ten times to understand its basic meaning; then you have to read it several times in the context of the whole paragraph to understand the nuances of each word.

For example, here’s a sentence:

“He usually prints letters legibly and leaves a space between words.”

On the surface, that sounds good, right? He’s printing things! He’s doing it! He’s making it happen!

But the key word here is, “usually.” Usually is the word that indicates the level at which he is doing these things. In reality, handwriting is the Captain’s weakest area. With this sentence, the teacher is trying to communicate the he needs more handwriting practice.

If he were doing well in this area, she might have said, “He always prints legibly.” If he were having a lot of difficulty, she might have had to go all the way to, “He sometimes prints legibly.”

Instead, the selection of the key word “usually” is meant to flag it as a problem area that needs work, but isn’t threatening his ability to pass.

Crazy, eh? It’s like every single point in the report card must have a positive sound about it, no matter what it is really trying to say. You really have to read between the lines to understand why your kid got the mark they did, and what they really need to work on.

Here’s another one:

“He applies knowledge and skills in familiar contexts with considerable effectiveness.”

This comment is about math. The key word here is “considerable” — this means he’s doing very well. If he were having trouble in math class, she might have said, “with some effectiveness” or maybe, “He usually applies knowledge.”

It took me a very long time to learn to speak this kind of language.

I guess the Board is just trying to protect its teachers from ugly confrontations, but we really just wish they’d tell it like it is — it’d feel a lot less like homework!

9 thoughts on “I Usually Do Well At This Sort Of Thing

  1. I still don’t get it sometimes and The Boy is in Grade 4. Finally, I said to one of the teachers “So, is this an issue that will hold him back a year?” She said that they would meet with us and have a long conversation if they want to hold a student back. And that he was in no risk of that.

    I decided then and there that grades don’t matter at this stage. The bar is “don’t fail.” I know it’s low but honestly, when was the last time you discussed what your math grades were in Grade 3?

  2. Betsy Mae

    We had the same exeperience here with Mouse’s report card, it was our first experience with a ‘real’ report card and we had a difficult time reading the comments. We went into the parent/teacher interviews feeling like it was an average report card and came out of the interview having been told she is one of the top students in her class??!!!

  3. I remember my own report cards and thinking how useless they were. I like the letter grades, if they were good, but the comments always sounded so stupid. I wish the teacher could just scrawl, doing good or work more on this.

  4. when the hubby had to do report cards last year he hated that he had to choose from a set of predetermined sentences for his comments. if only it was the good ole days where you only had to try and decipher the teacher’s handwriting instead of the cryptic between the lines meaning.

  5. Melanie

    I have the same problem with Call’s report cards. Thank goodness there are letter grades this year to give some idea of how he’s actually doing.

    Smothermother’s comment sheds some light on why they’re like that – I always pictured the report card as a template where the teacher has to select always/often/sometimes/never as the qualifier for each pre-written sentence.

  6. I think to read the comments on my daughter’s report card you might not realize that she has some trouble spots in school that are “bad” enough to warrant putting her on an IEP. She’s in grade 2 right now and since she started JK I’ve sent in periodic notes as well as had phone conversations with her teachers just to get an impression of how she’s doing at school in a day to day basis. Helps make those report cards easier to understand.

  7. You’re not the only one who find the report card comments confusing.

    The Toronto Star ran a story a couple of months back examining the unintelligible comments that parents sometimes get on their children’s report cards. Some of the comments they quoted in the article were crazy. For instance: “She systematically describes the relative locations of objects or people using positional language.” Or perhaps this: “He demonstrates the principles of movement using locomotion, manipulation and stability skills.”

    Apparently, as a result of the article, the Ontario education ministry is planning to do an overhaul of the comments so that they are easier to understand.

    Here’s more info.

  8. I remember the cryptic comments in junior high, but in elementary school we usually had a few written paragraphs from the teacher all in one section. It’s too bad that it’s confusing from grade 1 on through, now.

    It sort of makes me wonder what the point is. If we really don’t want to make kids feel bad, then do away with letter grades or report cards. But providing a less-than-honest (or clear) evaluation seems sort of like an exercise in futility.

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