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Parent blog: Reclaiming school conferences

In this open letter to teachers, mom and literacy coach Ilana Spiegel says she doesn’t find report cards all that useful when it comes to truly understanding whether her child is learning and thriving in school.

I don’t open report card envelopes. I know what the contents will say.  A “3,”or check mark or plus or minus or CD (consistently demonstrates) or NS (needs support) is really the same as “fine” or “good” or “great” or “bad” or “all the time” or “never.” A MAP score of 227, a DRA of 40 and a TCAP “proficient” give me snapshots of moments in time, unearthing competitive comparisons of percentiles and levels. The marks on “standards-based report cards” and “standardized assessments” are predetermined definitions rather than reflections and opportunities for growth.


I bet you dread the work it takes to fill out those report cards that I don’t read, proctor MAP testing and administer all those DRAs.  When asked why you chose teaching as a profession, can you imagine saying, “I became a teacher so I could compile, analyze and track quantitative statistics.”  No, you entered the education profession because you love reading or writing or math or history or science or… kids.  You teach children. You teach my child.

Don’t get me wrong. I love data. It’s amazing how all those numbers can come together to show assets and areas for improvement across large groups of students. But when the data set is 1, and when that 1 is my child, I want to know what you, the teacher, know.  The “data” may tell you that he needs to think about “main ideas and details.”

So, tell me how he pulled one idea through a book, holding on to it for dear life, and in his life it is important, but the author, publisher and even test maker may have other ideas. Tell me how he needs to think not just about what was important, but why it is important and how he needs to carry that new understanding into the world to perhaps change that very same world.  Share with me that the data suggests that he needs to make inferences, AND how when he does infer, he begins to build a theory about characters that in turn leads to theories about the person in the chair next to him and maybe even for whole groups of people he never thought about.  Because the data isn’t just about what he knows and doesn’t know, it is about possibilities of what he can know and do.

You, too, may love what all that data tells you, seeing a space for growth that wasn’t there before, or a cause for celebration.  You may even love higher math like statistics, but you teach students how to use that math. As a parent, I will hold on to that data, those numbers, because numbers are concrete. But do those numbers match what you know about my child? Are they measuring what you value and have been teaching?

Because I have lived with this child for many years, I have heard and seen data that says he is a “3” or “proficient” or “average.” And I know that seeing those results is technically growth because the standards that are being measured are harder. But, if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, please let’s work collaboratively in our conference to focus on what needs to change to get a different result when you read his next piece or writing, grade his next math quiz, or assign the next social studies project.

Our 15 minutes together isn’t an accountability meeting, but a conference.  We go to conferences to learn new ideas or challenge and stretch what we thought we knew into new spaces. The powers that be need you to fit your understanding of my child into a neat box called “proficient” or “advanced” or, heaven forbid, “partially proficient,” but I know that you are teaching not just with your mind, but with your heart.  So, tell me what you know by heart about my child…

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.