Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 12
When Schools Rate Students' Character, Do Parents Get It?
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who doesn't want to pitch in."
Still, schools that rate students in
these new ways face a big challenge:
presenting the information so it's useful and understandable for parents
and students. And they must tread
carefully as researchers urge extra
caution in measuring these so-called
soft skills and noncognitive traits.
Existing measures, including teacher
observations and surveys in which
students rate their own character
strengths, are imprecise and subject
to biases that can make them inaccurate, researchers say.
Looping In Parents
Schools report on students' character in a number of ways.
While some include the traits on
traditional report cards, others include them on progress reports they
send home periodically. Most schools
ask teachers to craft the student
ratings using a variety of questionnaires.
Schools have always asked teachers to provide some input on students' character skills in report
card comments, but establishing a
more formal and consistent method
for that feedback allows teachers to track patterns in students'
strengths, Elias said.
Current methods show room for
improvement, he said. Many districts
use computerized report card systems
that allow teachers to select comments about students from a dragdown menu of options. Elias found
that teachers in one high school-
when asked to select two statements
about each student from a menu of 60
items-never selected an option beyond the first 31 choices.
Formalizing character feedback
also helps get parents, teachers, and
students on the same page by emphasizing a set list of skills that guide a
school's work in helping students develop socially and emotionally, Elias
said. For measures of soft skills to be
effective, they must be grounded in a
larger school approach that involves
standards showing how those skills
should be demonstrated at each grade
level, classroom instructional strategies, and parental-engagement efforts,
Expecting students' skills to improve by rating them without those
other elements is like expecting to
lose weight by stepping on a scale
every day without diet or exercise,
"If the goal is to get parents engaged, then we can't make this as
complicated as the common-core
math curriculum," said Elias. "We
have to focus on a few key things that
we want the parents to be focused on."
In Austin, for example, the personal-development skills on students' report cards are grounded
in a districtwide social-emotionallearning plan, said Lindsay Lamb, a
research analyst for the district who
has studied trends in student scores.
That plan includes direct instruction
on personal and relationship skills
through research-based curriculum;
changes in schoolwide policies, such
REPORT CARDS GET A MAKEOVER
A growing wave of schools give parents feedback on their children's character skills and nonacademic traits through report
cards and progress updates. Among the traits and behaviors that schools track:
To determine how a student stacks up in this measure of confidence and
positivity, teachers answer questions about how often he or she looks
forward to activities and says positive things about him or herself.
This is a measure of a student's ability to empathize and consider
diverse perspectives on an issue.
This education buzzword refers to a student's awareness of his or
her own learning processes. Experts say students are more effective
learners if they understand how they approach failure, learn from
mistakes, and process information.
Included on a character-growth card used by some KIPP charter schools,
"zest" refers to students' enthusiasm and energy in approaching tasks.
A term popularized by psychologist Angela Duckworth, "grit" refers to a
passion and perseverance in achieving long-term goals.
Elementary teachers in Austin rate each student on whether he or she "takes responsibility for own actions."
Austin also gives feedback on whether a student "manages emotions constructively." Many schools with social-emotional-learning programs emphasize
the larger concept of self-awareness, a student's ability to recognize and respond to emotions and control his or her own behavior.
SOURCES: Montgomery County, Md., public schools; KIPP Public Charter Schools; Austin Independent School District; Urban Assembly Charter Schools
as discipline; and efforts to incorporate social-emotional learning into
traditional academic instruction.
The district also has a strategy for
sharing its social-emotional-learning
work with parents. That includes
book clubs where parents discuss
concepts like how to learn from failure and booths at events where staff
members explain the work.
At the Urban Assembly Unison
School, a charter middle school in
neighborhood, students lead their
own parent-teacher conferences,
reviewing their social-emotionallearning scores alongside a portfolio
of their academic work, Principal
Emily Paige said.
"We want students to be able to use
this to talk to their parents," Paige
said. "That act of self-assessment
builds social-emotional skills."
The Urban Assembly charter
school network uses a version of a
"student-strengths assessment" developed by the Devereux Center for
Resilient Children. Two teachers use
that assessment to rate each student
by describing on a numerical scale
how often they've witnessed them
demonstrating specific behaviors,
like "doing something nice for somebody" and "speaking about positive
things." Teachers fill out an extensive,
72-question survey about students
three times a year and a smaller,
nine-question assessment twice.
"Teachers start to look at a student
through a [social-emotional learning]
lens," said David Adams, the director
of social-emotional learning for the
12 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 31, 2017 | www.edweek.org
network. "Instead of saying a student
is acting out, they're starting to say,
'This student needs support in selfmanagement. How can I change my
classroom to do that?' "
For example, if a student scores
low in "optimistic thinking," a teacher
may make a point of regularly asking him about a good thing that happened that day, Adams said.
It's important for schools that measure social-emotional or character
traits to use specific behaviors in both
their assessment and reporting, said
Angela Duckworth, the University of
Pennsylvania psychologist who popularized the term "grit."
She helped the KIPP charter network develop a "character-growth
card" that provides regular feedback
to parents on student traits like zest,
a descriptor for enthusiasm. It does
so by reporting on teachers' observations of a menu of behaviors.
"You have to have some way of communicating to kids and their families,
more articulately, more specifically,
less abstractly, what you mean by
character," Duckworth said. "This
says, 'Here are actual things that you
can see and are real to you.' "
A parent is more likely to understand the value of a student resisting distractions than more academic
words like metacognition, she said.
KIPP schools that use the character
scores provide them separately from
student report cards so that parents
understand they are meant to be for-
mative-conversation starters that
contribute to ongoing work-rather
than summative, like final grades.
Duckworth has many concerns
about the trend of measuring and reporting on individual student traits,
as schools seek to foster nonacademic
traits like social awareness and responsible decisionmaking. That trend
comes as researchers who promote
such traits-including Duckworth-
argue over how to best measure them
and how to responsibly use those
Teachers may have different views
on what such traits as responsibility
look like, which may cause students
to receive inconsistent scores. And
implicit biases could lead some teachers to rate students in certain racial
or demographic groups lower than
their peers in some areas.
Lamb, the research analyst in the
Austin district, said she's found some
trends that may suggest bias. One
analysis found that white students
and students from higher-income
families score higher on the district's
personal development reports than
their black and lower-income peers.
The district has made training in
recognizing biases and culturally responsive teaching a priority, Lamb
said, and trends in students' scores
may help inform that work.
Rutgers' Elias said these measurements may actually give schools
a forum for talking about teacher
biases and inconsistent standards
they hold for students. For example,
a school that notices a teacher consistently rating English-learners lower
than their peers may be able to intervene or review that teacher's approach to that student group, he said.
Concerns about bias can also be
addressed by asking more than one
teacher to provide feedback for each
student, Elias said.
But Duckworth worries that parents won't understand some of the
flaws with the measurements, including statistical nuances she didn't understand until graduate school. Some
researchers also warn that feedback
on character traits in the form of
scores or grades can feel like a label
to some students, which may invite
them to compare themselves with
their peers, rather than challenging
themselves to improve.
Duckworth also fears schools will
begin tying the measurements to
high-stakes issues, like teacher evaluations and school accountability,
which she strongly opposes.
There's also no documented evidence yet that giving report cardstyle feedback on character actually
leads to improvements for students,
"If kids could get formative feedback, information they could learn
and grow from, that is potentially a
legitimate use," Duckworth said. "But
the reason I say 'potentially' is that
that hasn't been tested."
Coverage of learning mindsets and
skills is supported in part by a grant
from the Raikes Foundation, at www.
raikesfoundation.org. Education Week
retains sole editorial control over the
content of this coverage.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 31, 2017
Education Week - May 31, 2017
Where Career Plans Start Early
States Struggle to Define ‘Ineffective Teachers’
Trump Priorities on Full Display In K-12 Budget
For Schools, Rating Students’ Character Is a Tricky Prospect
News in Brief
Charter Win Brings Big Shift to L.A. Unified
Reading and the Mind : An Author Q&A
Letters to Districts Prompt Worries About E-Rate’s Future
States’ Spec. Ed. Work Offers a Jump on ESSA’s Demands
Amid Fiscal Crisis, Puerto Rico Shuts Down Scores of Schools
Budget Plan Spares Some Ed. Research Efforts, Cuts Others
Trump Budget Draws Ire, Tepid Support From School Choice Worl
Darienne Driver: A Collective-Impact Approach to Equity
Steve Canavero:Two-Party Support Gives School Funding Wider Reach
Peggy Lehner: Money Doesn’t Ensure Equity
Veronica Palmer: Empowering Families to Lead
Pedro A. Rivera: A Fair Formula for Funding
John Schoenig: Our Children Are Made for Greatness
Tammy Wawro: Confronting the Realities of a Changing Population
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Danielle Gonzales & Ross Wiener: Yes, Schools Have an Equity Problem. What Should We Do About It?
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - For Schools, Rating Students’ Character Is a Tricky Prospect
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 2
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 3
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Report Roundup
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Charter Win Brings Big Shift to L.A. Unified
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Reading and the Mind : An Author Q&A
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Letters to Districts Prompt Worries About E-Rate’s Future
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 9
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 10
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 11
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 12
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Amid Fiscal Crisis, Puerto Rico Shuts Down Scores of Schools
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 14
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 15
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 16
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 17
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Trump Budget Draws Ire, Tepid Support From School Choice Worl
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 19
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Steve Canavero:Two-Party Support Gives School Funding Wider Reach
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Pedro A. Rivera: A Fair Formula for Funding
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 24
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 25
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 26
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - 27
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - Danielle Gonzales & Ross Wiener: Yes, Schools Have an Equity Problem. What Should We Do About It?
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - May 31, 2017 - CW4