Teachers know better than anyone that grades and test scores don’t accurately measure our students’ abilities. We know we shouldn’t judge fish by their ability to climb trees, yet we continue to apply the same rigid, one-size-fits-all testing to a diverse student population. Current-day score stakes are steep. From higher education opportunities to school funding, student data dictates it all. But we’re overlooking a crucial component here. Student data can have a devastating impact on kids still developing confidence and self-esteem. This year, instead of handing out what I knew would be a disappointing update, I tried an alternative progress report with one of my diverse learners.
An Out-of-the-Box Idea
Despite his many cognitive challenges, this new 3rd grader has been working hard to improve in areas across the board. He is in the beginning stages of a much-needed IEP evaluation, which unfortunately requires a lengthy amount of data collection over (a ridiculously long) time. At this stage, the data and grades must reflect his ability without any intervention, so I’ve had to scale back on modification and support. I can’t stand this part of the process—especially in this student’s case. So, to preserve his newly emerging self-confidence, I attempted an out-of-the-box approach to his quarter-one report card.
I decided to craft this student an alternative progress report. In addition to sharing his standard report with his parents, I wanted to create one that reflects his growth in other areas just as crucial as academics. Categories like preparedness, participation, and enthusiasm replaced the standard subject areas. I graded him with A’s and B’s and stamped the report with our school logo for good measure. I also included a space for personalized notes from myself and our principal celebrating his efforts thus far. At the end of the day, students took home their sealed report cards to share with their families, and for the first time, this kid went home with one he could be proud of:
This effort entailed some collaboration with his parents. I first cleared the idea with his mom and shared an electronic copy of his school-official report for their records. Still, she reached out with a heartfelt appreciation sincere enough to give me goosebumps. At the school level, our special education department officially declared the initiative a best practice for students in similar situations. A desperate attempt at preserving an 8-year-old’s confidence turned into a school-wide practice. Cue all the happy feels!
We’re the Buffer
School is tough enough for neurotypical kids, let alone diverse learners without proper support. While there’s very little we can do as individuals to change the flaws within the current school system, we have full control over what happens in our classrooms. We serve as the buffer between our students and their rigid education system, and that’s no easy feat. However, our students—especially the ones who struggle—can really benefit from a little extra empathy or modification. Our small gestures are likely more impactful than we’ll ever know.