Observations: What Contributes to Poor Academic Performance?

In the months I’ve been working at my new school, I have tried to determine what factors contribute to poor academic performance. Here, for what it’s worth, are my observations thus far:

  1. High absenteeism: This shocked me. I added up how many days students have missed since kindergarten. Some have missed over a year, some two. There’s a strong correlation between attendance and achievement, and over time, gaps become chasms.
  2. Transience: Students move from rental to rental, school to school. Schools need considerable time to get supports in place for vulnerable students—difficult when students are frequently uprooted.
  3. Biological conditions: Some students have neurological issues that affect learning (Fetal Alcohol (or Drug) Syndrome, malnutrition, lack of medical care). Often, memory and language appear to be most impacted. You can teach—they may not remember.
  4. Unstable home environments: Highly stressed students have a harder time learning and engaging.
  5. Lack of home support: When survival is top priority, homework is not.
  6. Cultural differences: Not all cultures value what “western culture” values.

All the while, I keep thinking about Einstein’s famous quote: “Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts.” My students teach me every day about what cannot be measured: resilience and laughter, the importance of the now, of belonging, connection, and  beating the odds.


Writing Report Cards: Ideas for Teachers-in-Training

Our school is close to Vancouver Island University. An Educational Assessment class meets in our library every Wednesday morning. Thirty students and their professor discuss ideas and then go into the classrooms to see “assessment in action.”

Sometimes the teachers are asked to come and present ideas. Tomorrow, eight of us are sharing the “Road to Writing Report Cards,” a process often daunting to young educators.

So I am preparing my notes. (This is what I enjoy about having university students in the building: I have an opportunity to reflect upon processes not often verbalized.)

I’m trying to keep in mind that these students have never written report cards before. What should I tell them?

Here are my thoughts so far:

  1. Become familiar with your district’s report card. Ask the principal for a top-notch exemplar.
  2. Know your goals. Assessment begins with planning.
  3. Know your students. Yes, look at the files. It is crucial to look at the files. How would you react if your doctor didn’t look at your history? If she thought she’d just gather her own impressions, give you a fresh start? The files contain all designations, assessments, referrals, medical reports, psychological tests, legal papers, number of absences, and previous report cards.
  4. Spend most of your assessment energy on formative assessment (see Dylan Wiliam’s work). Do NOT put all eggs (and endless hours) into the summative assessment basket.
  5. Allow students to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways (see #3).
  6. Listen to classroom interactions and conversations. Keep a clipboard ready to record observations.
  7.  Keep work samples, projects, journals. As report cards near, have students submit their best work in a portfolio with a self-assessment.
  8. Keep report card comments clear and precise. Include ways to move student learning forward.
  9. Find a colleague in the school to give you feedback. You are not alone!

I think these will make a great start. What do you think—have I missed something obvious? Let me know!