Eye on Education: Communication and Learning Outcomes in Education

Anytime something is very important, there is an elevation to the significance of the information connected to it. Few things are as important to parents as their children, and therefore it is imperative that timely, accurate and effective communication in education is essential. If the average person were to spend a morning in the office of any of our schools, they would be struck with the amount of messages, information, and logistical planning that occurs on the fly each and every day. Each piece of information is significant and important and must be treated as such in order for the complexity of schedules and plans of schools and families to run smoothly. I salute the staffs in the school system for making this very complex matter appear to be a well-oiled machine.

Beyond the day -to- day workings of a school, parents are expecting much more from schools in communication and rightly so. For many decades, student progress was provided 3 times per year as report cards containing information about student performance that was either percent or letter grade based. Today, more and more schools are making the transition to outcomes based reporting. Instead of a letter grade or a percent to represent student performance, teachers establish from the program of studies, the essential outcomes for student learning, and then provide to parents details on student progress toward the attainment of each outcome. Initially, some parents struggle with this new reporting format since it is not common to their own experience in schools. What appears to be happening however, is an increased understanding by parents of the curriculum their children are studying and increased engagement as parents become even more informed about the learning opportunities their children are experiencing.

From the narrative, there is increased clarity on the part of the teacher in terms of student progress, as well as for parents who have specific descriptive feedback about learning outcomes. In a sense, this form of grading and reporting is far more detailed than a number on the report card. Have you ever wondered what it means when a student is said to have achieved 77% in a term in a specific course? … 77% of what? How sure could anyone be from observing and averaging test scores that a student has achieved 77%? Which concepts of the curriculum have they mastered? Which ones do they understand at 77%? Which ones do they have less than a 77% understanding of? These are important questions that educators are wrestling with these days, and those who are providing a narrative that describes student progress toward achieving specific learning outcomes are making a difference in how we report and understand student performance.