By Doug Hallett
Advice being given to teachers by their union to keep their comments short in upcoming student progress reports shouldn’t affect students who are struggling, says the local president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.
And Martha Rogers, director of education at the Upper Grand District School Board, says she’s trusting in the professionalism of local teachers to ensure that “clear” progress reports go out to all parents next month.
The federation, which represents teachers in Ontario’s public elementary schools, is “advising” its members to confine their comments about most students to a single sentence in the mid-term progress reports that will be sent home between Nov. 14 and Nov. 16, Doug Cook said Friday.“Where teachers may have written a paragraph in the past, our advice is to write a sentence”, the president of the federation’s Upper Grand branch said in an interview.
Cook said it’s up to individual teachers to decide whether to follow their union’s advice in this regard.
He said that while the federation is urging the shortened comments for students “who are progressing as expected,” the union is advising teachers to “elaborate” in their comments for students “who are struggling, who need improvement.”
That’s so parents of such students are made aware of the need for additional help, he said.
The progress reports will be followed by parent-teacher interviews set for on and around Nov. 23, and these meetings should proceed as they have in the past, Cook said.
Providing one-sentence comments on the progress reports meets the minimum requirement set out in the Ministry of Education document that tells teachers how to complete progress reports and report cards, Cook said.
Rogers said Friday that the Upper Grand board has traditionally sent out “very thorough” progress reports to parents, and she hopes the comments sent out next month by teachers will be “meaningful and parent-friendly.”
She expects the teachers’ comments will be “clear,” no matter how many lines are written, she said in an interview. “I have every faith in our teachers’ professionalism that the progress reports will be clear.”
The fall mid-term progress reports don’t contain marks, as regular report cards do. Instead, they contain boxes checked off by teachers to rate students in various areas as excellent, good, satisfactory or needing improvement.
Parents should take note of any boxes not marked as good or excellent, Rogers said. Parents with any concerns should make an appointment to meet with the teacher, as they’ve always done, she said.
Rogers noted with a chuckle that the board’s teachers have had a tendency in the past to be a bit wordy in their progress reports. “They have written a great deal, and we’ve talked about being concise,” Rogers said. “Human nature is often to fill up the box.”
ETFO’s advice is part of a campaign of opposition to Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, which was introduced by the Liberal government and passed on Sept. 11 with support from the Progressive Conservatives. Among other things, the bill imposes a two-year wage freeze and cuts back on sick-leave provisions.
Some local elementary teachers are showing their displeasure by withdrawing from supervision of extracurricular student activities and by pulling back from involvement in voluntary behind-the-scenes activities such as school-improvement committee work, Cook said.
“There has definitely been a reduction in extracurricular activities,” although the situation has been mixed between schools and also within schools, he said.
“It’s a hodge-podge. There is no set pattern, because individuals are deciding what to pause on, and it’s all individual choice,” Cook said.
In the board’s Guelph high schools, though, there has been little effect from Bill 115 so far, Rogers said.
Some local high school teachers, members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, have been wearing black to school on Wednesdays and also wearing bracelets with a message of concern about the bill, she said. However, “all the teams seem to be carrying on” in local high schools.
Rogers noted, however, that her board is currently bargaining with the OSSTF local, and the current lack of much impact from the Bill 115 controversy “could change if we are not making progress” at the bargaining table.
Although the legislation includes a provision for no strikes or lockouts in the education sector for two years, ETFO and OSSTF have been taking strike mandate votes this fall anyway. At the Upper Grand branch of ETFO, 97 per cent of teachers who voted recently supported a strike mandate, Cook said.
Catholic and French-speaking school boards are not part of the unrest in schools over the bill.