School District 47 is looking at expanding and becoming more consistent in the way teachers communicate electronically with parents.
Allison Burt, district coordinator of curriculum, assessment and reporting, reported to the school district’s board of education at its May 13 meeting about the use of e-portfolios, which provide parents regular information in an electronic format about how their elementary-aged children are doing in school. The recommendations Burt made at the meeting were from the district’s communicating student learning committee.
“We have been looking at innovative and creative ways to communicate student learning to parents for more than four years,” said Burt in an interview. “Now that we are moving to year five of reporting student progress in a new way, we are wanting to tackle the consistency issue in a more deliberate way.”
The objective of electronic reporting is to give parents with children in elementary schools information about their child’s progress meaningfully and in a timely way.
For all students, whether they are receiving e-portfolios or report cards to communicate, the final communication is a summative report, for kindergarten to grade 7. High school students always receive report cards.
The summative report will go out at the end of the school year and parents will receive information about how their child did in all areas of learning this school year.
“We know with the COVID-19 pandemic that the feedback might not be as robust,” said Burt. “We have lots of different scenarios for people being able to keep up with some of the work that has been going out. We are using all of the evidence of learning, so whether that came before spring break, or after spring break, we include as much as possible. For most students, the majority of the mark or proficiency level, will be based on evidence from before spring break.”
Moving into the 2020/2021 school year, the school district will be looking at having teachers who continue to use e-portfolios to issue a progress report in the middle of the year. Burt said this will be a way to provide parents with a snapshot of progress that is on one document as opposed to several different posts. She added that it’s a way to create more consistency with the e-portfolios because they vary greatly from teacher to teacher, grade to grade and school to school.
“Really, an e-portfolios is supposed to look different because they are personalized for the individual student,” said Burt. “Teachers are using them in different ways, not just for reporting.”
Burt said when a teacher is using the e-portfolios to do other things than communicating the snapshot of progress, it’s going to look way different with a teacher who is adding in celebrations, or perhaps even doing some showcasing of a student’s best work.
“It’s a learning curve for teachers and parents so we have been generous in implementation of the e-portfolios,” said Burt. “Now, we are going into our fifth year and we want to make sure we’ve tidied up the processes.”
In an e-portfolio, at a minimum this year, teachers will have approximately 16 posts, which might include student self-assessment and teacher assessments. They might also include celebrations, such as if the student had a picture taken at a school event that could go in the e-portfolios.
“The advantage of having an e-portfolios over a report card is you actually get to see the evidence and you can interact with your child and teacher through the comments,” said Burt. “You have the ability to comment on the samples of learning and that can go back and forth for some time with some teachers. It’s not just a written statement; you actually get to see it, so there’s video, there’s pictures, there’s text, there’s presentations.
It’s a much richer way to see what students are doing. It’s not just a written description. It’s a lot more interactive.”
Burt said e-portfolios are kind of like a window into the classroom.
“That’s the advantage of the e-portfolios,” she said. “It’s not to say that report cards can’t give good information, because they certainly do, but they are very different methods of communicating.”
For parents who don’t have computers, parents have access to e-portfolios through the schools.
“Parents can connect with the school principal and they will be provided an opportunity to look at the portfolio on one of the school computers,” said Burt.
She said some parents love e-portfolios because they get to see the almost real time connection. Some parents are not used to that type of reporting, so they hold fast to what they know, which is letter grades in report cards, according to Burt. She said the district is trying to make changes with how teachers communicate, encourage and inspire. She added that efforts are being made to educate parents about what e-portfolios are intended to do and to show the benefits of using them.
In School District 47, about 75 per cent of primary teachers are using e-portfolios as well as 35 per cent of intermediate teachers. Use of e-portfolios has not been mandated by the school district or ministry of education, but use is becoming more commonplace among the school district’s teachers.
“It’s an exciting change,” said Burt, “and an exciting shift but it’s not without hurdles.”