Analyzing Ontario’s fall “progress report” a year later

I am sure Ontario parents already know that the new Ontario progress report has absolutely nothing to do with students and parents and everything to do with making life easier for teachers. In fact, the spin and talking points to explain and defend the change is some of the most contradictory and bizarre I have ever read.

From the Ministry of Education website:

Here, for example, are some selected quotes and examples from the Education Ministry site

(1) On why the Ontario government eliminated a report card — 

For the past decade, elementary teachers used a provincial report card three times per year. Why has the government changed policy so that teachers now use a progress report card in the fall and a provincial report card two times per year?

Good question! Actually, there were three report cards a year for decades as far back as the 1950s when I was in elementary school. Why the change now? Well, check out this Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario site (ETFO) on the topic and it becomes very clear that the first report card of the year was replaced with a progress report because the union demanded it from the McGuinty government and they got exactly what they wanted. The key reason out of all the reasons given? ETFO wanted teachers to have a decreased workload in the fall! So, why doesn’t the Ministry simply say that?

(2) On why the teachers’ unions wanted the change —

For several years, the government has heard from education stakeholders that the methods teachers use to communicate with parents about the achievement of their children in the elementary grades could be improved. We believe that our new policy which introduces a fall progress report card and a revised provincial elementary report card will improve the methods teachers use for communicating with parents….”

So rather than simply admit that teachers have a lot to do in the fall and doing a progress report would help them concentrate on getting their curriculum firmly underway, they spin the issue like a top. Stakeholders? As I wrote in my comments above under item (1), the stakeholders were from ETFO and the other teachers’ unions. In fact, the very idea that a progress report with check marks and a few comments would “improve” communicating to parents is insulting to them as stakeholders. 

(3) On what the progress report is purported to evaluate —

The fall progress report card places a strong emphasis on the development of students’ learning skills and work habits. Students’ achievement of six learning skills and habits will be shown on the front page of the progress report card. These are: (1) Responsibility, (2) Organization, (3) Independent Work, (4) Collaboration, (5) Initiative, and (6) Self-Regulation. The development of these skills and habits will be reported as “excellent”, “good”, “satisfactory” or “needs improvement” and a large space is provided for teacher comments about students’ strengths and areas for improvement.”

The reality is that evaluting interpersonal skills and work habits, which are totally subjective skills and ways of behaving, are actually harder to recognize in a short period of time than academic progress. In other words, if classroom teachers can know whether or not a child is organized and has initiative that early in the year, surely, they can also know enough about their academic progress to give them actual grades.

Then, there is the excellent, good, satisfactory, needs improvement, which has been a bone of contention for years. In fact, I can remember having to use that system in the 1980s. Parents didn’t like it then and I doubt they like it now. Why? Because it doesn’t tell them how their child is performing. Nor, does it tell them how their child is performing in relation to his or her peers. When we read A, B, C, D or F, we know what those letters mean. So, let me suggest parents just figure excellent is an A, good is a B, satisfactory is a C and needs improvement is what is left.

Moreover, while on the topic of anecdotal versus letter grades, I have a message for today’s educators and policy makers. If they are afraid of offending parents for politically correct reasons or hurting a child’s self-esteem by using those types of words to define progress,  they are not doing them any favours. Why? Because, they sure learn in a hurry what A, B, C and D mean when they go on to college or university. Then, it hits hard. They also find out what those words mean when they are evaluated on the job. No “needs improvement” in that context that is for sure. So, getting them used to reality earlier would save that trauma when it comes — and for most it will come.

(4) On the claims that schools will “now” have rich parent interviews — 

Ministry policy places an emphasis on teachers using the progress report card to conduct rich discussions and proactive interviews or conferences with parents and/or students in the fall to help establish a positive tone for the remainder of the year. In addition, spaces are provided on the progress report card for individual board design to reflect local conferencing/interviewing practices, vision statements, or other information about the school community.”

Even in the 1970s and 80s we had fall interviews with parents. Why the spin now about having “rich discussions and proactive conferences?” Especially since educators have worked closely with parents for decades. More spin and turning policy makers into pretzels just to try to defend a lesser progress report.  

(5) On the conflicting rationale for a fall progress report —

Early in the fall, students have just begun their learning in the subjects and teachers do not have substantial evidence to accurately assign a grade or mark. However, in the fall, teachers do have enough information to report to parents whether or not they are making progress.”

Now this talking point has got to be the best in terms of spin. On the one hand, the Ministry of Education is saying they changed from a regular report card in the fall to a progress report because they didn’t yet have enough evidence of how well a student was performing. Yet, on the other hand, they “do have enough information to report to parents whether or not they are making progress.” I mean, they either have enough information or they don’t. How is it that for decades they had enough information and now, all of a sudden, they don’t.


My complaint about all this is the deviousness involved in the defense of the reduced reporting process. I also don’t like the fact that the comments in the progress reports are, far too often, not personalized. Do I blame teachers? No, I don’t. Even my other post called “Comments for Dummies” was written tongue in cheek and based on that series of yellow books — not that teachers were dummies. The reality is that the majority of teachers just do what they are told, work very hard  and want only the best for their students.

Rather, my complaint is directed at the spinmeisters who are diminishing parents with their nonsensical spin — both in the Ontario Ministry of Education and the various teachers’ unions. Moreover, after a year of reading about this change, I am not even sure it has reduced a teacher’s workload.

In any event, after all is said and done, even if the new fall progress report is a sham, will children and parents be worse off with that one report in the fall and two main report cards in the winter and spring? No they won’t, as long as parents are proactive and assertive and ask very specific questions in parent-teacher interviews and conferences.

Meaning, the crux of the matter is that it is up to parents to make sure they hold their child’s teacher accountable. So when they hear the words “satisfactory” or “needs improvement,” they need to ask exactly how their child needs to improve within specific subject areas, what the teacher plans to do to help their child improve and what they can do at home.

ELP in 900 more schools McGuinty’s gift to teachers’ unions!

Ontario has a huge $18+ BILLION dollar deficit and is now a “HAVE-NOT” province. Yet, you would never guess it given the decisions coming out of the McGuinty Liberal government. Yesterday, for example, we found out that the full-day “Early Learning Program” (ELP) for four and five-year olds that was rolled out last September in selected schools, would add another 900 schools in September 2011. I will repeat that. 

NINE HUNDRED more schools!

So, how many more early childhood and elementary school teachers do you think will  be needed to staff ELP programs in 900 more schools —  which by the way are scheduled to start exactly one month before the 2011 Ontario election? Even if there were only one extra classroom in each of those 900 schools, there would need to be at least one qualified teacher and one “Early Childhood Educator.” Meaning, we are looking at the public school boards in Ontario hiring upwards to 1800 more employees, at a very minimum!

So, if the first part of the program involved $1.5 billion, then we are likely looking at another similar amount, in spite of the many problems being experienced now. For instance:

  • We know that some communities don’t want the program; 
  • We also know that some communities are experiencing conflicts and logistics problems between existing non-profit and private day care operators and the before and after day care programs — which is why McGuinty gave up on that idea;
  • Then, there are dozens of infrastructure-related problems, such as no capital funding to build more classrooms or to increase parking spaces for the increased numbers of teachers and parents at existing schools.
  • And, of course, there really isn’t any parent choice, other than send your child for a full-day or keep them at home until they are six years old.

So, what does it all mean? Well, Premier Dalton McGuinty and the McGuinty caucus are hoping that young parents will suddenly forget how high their hydro bills are and that all the wasted money on wind farms and green energy boondoggles will be forgotten. They also likely hope that the teachers’ unions and their members will support the Liberals for all the largess they are going to receive on behalf of the Ontario taxpayer.

Well, I don’t think so! There is an old saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. In other words, we will not be fooled a third time.

Will the Ontario PCs and its leader Tim Hudak cancel the ELP? Not likely.  As PC MPP Jim Wilson says in this CTV article, they simply would not expand it any further.  Why would they not cancel it? First of all, because some kids in some communities will benefit from a head start.  Secondly, because no one is going to take away a program young parents have gotten used to and for the most part, like.

However, will the extension of the ELP into 900 more schools be a gift to the teachers’ unions? Absolutely!

Globe’s Radwanski thinks McGuinty’s “education record” key to re-election in 2011

What is it about so many Canadian professional journalists that they feel they have to continually promote Liberal governments, even when they are doing a bad job of governing? And, yes, the McGuinty-led Liberals have done a bad job of governing Ontario, particularly given the number of e-Health-like boondoggles, wind energy and other money sucking green initiatives, the HST and other tax increases (e.g. the health premium and eco-taxes come to mind), as well as ever rising hydro rates. In fact, the Ontario Liberals have taken Ontario from “have” to “have not” status in just a few years, requiring equalization payments be returned to Queen’s Park. Meaning, that Ontario is no longer the economic engine of Canada. 

Yet, plugging for the Ontario Liberal Party is exactly what Adam Radwanski seems to be attempting in today’s Globe and Mail (H/T Catherine). I say “seems to be attempting” because, while he does provide several reasons for the McGuinty Liberal government to stress their record on education in order to get re-elected in October 2011, he also presents several caveats as to why that may not happen.  And, on those points, I would agree.

Endnote: Post shortened on Friday, December 23rd, 2010. C/P at Jack’s Newswatch.

Is McGuinty gov’t “inclusive” with parent advocacy stakeholders?

On the main Government of Ontario web page for the full-day kindergarten, now referred to as the Early Learning Program (ELP for short), you will find the following “principles” listed.

  1. Early development launches children’s trajectories for learning
  2. Partnerships with parents and communities are essential
  3. Respect for diversity, equity and inclusion are prerequisites
  4. A planned program supports early learning
  5. Play is the means to early learning
  6. Knowledgeable and responsive educators are essential

Regarding Item (2) “partnerships with parents and communities are essential,” I would like feedback from Ontario parents and parent advocacy groups to find out if Ontario’s governing Liberal Party practices what it preaches when it comes to “inclusiveness.” Or, is it only inclusive about parents on paper or with those organizations who agree with everything their Cabinet and Minister of Education suggests?  

For example, which parent groups are considered stakeholder groups and asked for advice and which are not? If there is supposed to be respect for communities regarding the ELP, shouldn’t that include all parent advocacy groups? 

Specifically, I frequently read that Annie Kidder of People for Education (P4E) is invited to participate in just about every manner of Ontario education-oriented consultation there is even though P4E clearly is a private, not-for-profit advocacy/lobby type of organization. Moreover, P4E seems to hold a special status, given that they are listed at the bottom of this Ontario government page, in the same category as the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education and the Ontario Federation of Home and Home and School Association.

Yet, apparently, from what I understand, neither Doretta Wilson, the Executive Director of the Society for Quality Education (SQE), also a parent advocacy not-for-profit organization, or its Board Chair, Malkin Dare, have ever been invited to any sort of meaningful consultation regarding Ontario Ministry of Education issues — which seems to me is hardly fair or inclusive.

Perhaps Ms. Kidder from P4E and Ms. Wilson from SQE could start a dialogue here, or members of their respective boards and supporters. I can assure those who do decide to participate here will be treated with respect by me and other commenters, although we may agree to disagree sometimes. However,  I honestly want to know how the current Ontario government makes the decision as to which parent advocacy group can be considered a stakeholder and which can’t — and why they can’t. (H/T Catherine)

While I plan to send an e-mail invitation with this URL via both P4E and SQE’s websites, visitors could also leave a comment on their respective blogs as well.

EQAO needs review, moratorium on standardized testing

Update Thursday, September 23rd: I notice that my friends at Society for Quality Education would disagree with my recommendation for a moratorium on standardized testing until a full review is done on the process. In fact, it is most unfortunate, but what I see at SQE is a knee-jerk reaction against teachers, that if they “cheated” they should be fired.

Yes, I am a former teacher. But, at times I have been very critical on this blog of my fellow professionals. However, in this case, my reaction has more to do with the fact that I am also a former researcher. Stats and rankings can be manipulated and frankly, once the rankings come out, the students are completely forgotten.

If people see the school rankings as a form of public accountability, they have not asked themselves how they show accountability when only two subjects are being tested and those two subjects in a very limited way. In fact, if all we want is a snapshot that shows what children and youth know or don’t know in a very limited time frame, then randomized testing would make more sense.
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Would Hudak’s Ont PC’s provide real choice re kindergarten?

Interesting that in magazine,  the Ontario McGuinty Liberals are now trying to convince parents that they actually do have a “choice” regarding participation in the full-day kindergarten. Clearly that is not the case at all. In fact, their options are only that their young children either attend or not attend — since kindergarten is not compulsory in Ontario. Some choice that is. In fact, that is no choice at all. Parents either do it the McGuinty government’s way or not at all.

Instead, choice should have been half-day versus full-day kindergarten — which was what Premier Dalton McGuinty originally promised. Meaning, another broken promise.  Well, if the mayoralty race in Toronto is any indication, Ontarians are not going to simply say “okay sir, anything you say sir.” Meaning, the Ontario Liberals are going to go down to defeat in the provincial election of October 2011 in a big way — a way that they, in their current mode of arrogance and entitlement, simply seem to have no idea how bad it is going to be.  
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McGuinty gov’t made school board trustee powerless

I want all Ontarians to know, but particularly professional journalists and the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, that the changes the McGuinty government made to the Education Act through the “Student Achievement and School Board Governance Act, 2009,” has made the role of elected trustee completely and utterly meaningless.

For example, read the “Making a Difference for Kids: Running for Election as a School Board Trustee.” It is not a long document but there are truths hidden in plain sight within its pages. Specifically, while there are a lot of motherhood statements about how important trustees are to school boards in terms of accountability and mediating among conflicting interests and values, there is even more about how elected trustees are simply one member of a “team” and that once the “team” makes a decision, individual trustees should be seen and not heard.

I mean, everyone knows a school board is a “team.” But, what we haven’t really understood is how the legislation is now essentially about conformity and acquiescence — the very antithesis of democracy. For example (my highlighting):

“School trustees are the members of the District School Board. They are locally-elected representatives of the public, and they are the community’s advocate for public education.” (Page 4)

Only the team (the Board), not an individual trustee, has the authority to make decisions or take action. A school board must place all students first when making any decision.” (Page 4)

Trustees are required to uphold the implementation of any board resolution after it is passed by the board. In exercising their role, they are required to comply with the board’s code of conduct.” (Page 4 — What code of conduct?)

“Under the Education Act trustee power lies solely in membership on the corporate school board. As members of the corporate board, trustees are legally accountable to the public and the Minister of Education for collaborative decisions of the board…This means that once the Board has voted, it is a trustee’s responsibility to act in a manner that promotes and upholds the board’s decision and to communicate the board’s decision back to the constituency.” (Page 7)

“Acceptance to serve on a school board assumes an awareness of the legislated expectations and responsibilities conferred through legislation, provincial policy, contractual agreements or any other mechanism. Trustees must act within these parameters, and be aware of the consequences of decisions that don’t respect these commitments. “(Page 7 What consequences?) 

So, a rhetorical question might be: What good is electing a trustee based on what the candidate communicated during his or her campaign?  I mean, if a board wants to close a school, just how much can a trustee say or do? It would appear, not much if the board as a whole has already voted to close it.

In effect, then, the McGuinty Liberal government has made the role of school board trustee absolutely powerless — nothing more than window dressing. And, is that erosion an “attack on democracy?” You bet it is and Ontarians need to deal with it in the Ontario provincial election in October 2011 — by booting the McGuinty crew out!

Update: Article revised slightly on September 6th, 2010.