Report Card Night Revamped

schoolreformlogo.jpgWith his grades in hand, Nicko Navarro had to break the bad news to his parents, face-to-face.

Nicko’s moment of truth came during report card night Thursday—an annual fall ritual that became part of a new experiment at Nicko’s school as New Haven embarks on an ambitious school reform drive.

On report card night, parents are invited to visit schools, pick up their children’s report cards, and talk to teachers about their children’s progress. The night for the first marking period of the year usually occurs the week before Thanksgiving, as schools try to get parents inside the building and tuned into their children’s education.

In the midst of a citywide school reform drive that emphasizes accountability and parental involvement, CT Scholars is pioneering a new approach to report card night and parent-teacher conferences. Other schools are watching.

This time, Nicko led his own parent-teacher conference at CT Scholars report card night. He had to tell his parents what his grades were and why he got them. At the end of the 15-minute meeting, Nicko and his parents walked away with a plan to prevent his grades from sliding further.

Click the play arrow above to watch how it went.

CT Scholars is a satellite program of Wilbur Cross High School. The school contains just ninth and 10th grades, and aims to prepare its 150 students to join the honors program at Cross High.

The school’s revamped report card is part of an improved student advising program at CT Scholars. Three things make it different.

First, parent-teacher conferences are led by the students. The students prepare for report card night by looking at their grades and collecting one completed assignment from each of their classes that they want to share. Then, in advisory groups led by teachers, they write a short essay about their grades and what they can do to improve. On report card night, the students lead the discussion about their performance.

Second, instead of robo-call reminders from the principal, teachers call parents personally, scheduling appointments for them to come in, pick up the report cards, and talk. If parents can’t make it on report card night, teachers schedule a different day or evening for them to come in with their child.

Third, report card night at CT Scholars offers one-stop shopping. Instead of walking around the school trying to track down each of their child’s teachers. Parents meet with one teacher, the student’s advisor, and discuss all the grades at once.

On Thursday, a video camera recorded several student-led conferences so that outside teachers and administrators from other New Haven schools can see how it works.

It’s Official

Just past 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nicko arrived with his parents and little brother to meet with his adviser, ninth-grade World History teacher Leslie Blatteau. Nicko presented his parents some of his best work in each of his classes.

The conference started out OK. Nicko handed his mom a math quiz with an A on it. He told his parents he had a B-minus overall in the class.

“Ready for the hard stuff now?” asked Blatteau. Then Nicko moved into the classes where he hasn’t done as well: C-minuses in History and Spanish, Ds in English and Biology, and the worst one, an F in Phy-Chem.

“F?” asked Nicko’s dad Enrique Navarro incredulously.

Nicko confessed that he had been “slacking off” a bit. He promised to redouble his efforts.

Emphasizing the positive, Blatteau noted that Nicko is in Spanish II, as a freshman in a class full of sophomores. Also, Nicko’s math class is hard. His B-minus “proves that he has some skills,” Blatteau said.

“The other grades show that he’s not putting enough effort in,” she said. “We know Nicko can do this, but he needs to turn the work up—put more effort in.”

Blatteau pointed to a perfect score on a Spanish assignment from the first day of school. Nicko wants to “do right,” she said. “I think some things are interfering with him right now and pulling him in some different directions. We’ve got to step into that road and say ‘Nicko, you can’t go down that road! You can’t. We’re not going to let you. We’re not.’”

“I want you to stop me,” Nicko said quietly.

“OK, it’s official. We’re stopping you,” Blatteau said. “You’re staying after school until 3 o’clock every day, and then you’re going home.”  Nicko usually gets out between 1:30 and 2 p.m.

Nicko’s mom, Nancy Navarro, said that Nicko’s default schedule will now be to stay after school for extra help, unless she writes a note stating otherwise.

“This is your only responsibility,” she told Nicko, who nodded as he shuffled papers on the desk in front of him.

“So we’ll do tomorrow. He can stay after tomorrow. He’s got history work to do,” Blatteau said.

As the conference broke up, Nicko said that he felt “kind of mad” at himself. He said that he was glad that he had talked to his parents about his grades.

“You have to man up to what you did,” he said.

He said he wants to be a police officer someday. He was asked why his grades have been going down. “I just don’t know,” he said.

“I was hoping to hear better news,” said his mom. She said she appreciated the student-led format. “I knew he was very, very, nervous,” she said. “He had to take responsibility.”

Grade Mystique Removed

Blatteau later explained that the new parent-teacher conferences are part of a larger development at CT Scholars, an improved advisory program. Two or three times a month, students meet in groups of 10 to 15 with their faculty advisor. In preparation for report card night, the advisory groups met twice this week.

“It’s amazing,” Blatteau said, describing the scene as students in her advisory group had looked over their grades and talked and wrote about how to do better. “You had a room full of 14-year-old kids all talking about their grades.”

It’s unusual to see students discussing their grades freely, Blatteau said. “It’s usually a hidden thing,” she said. “We’re trying to have it out in the open.”

Students in her advisory group were impressed by one girl who had straight As, Blatteau said. “How’d you do that?” they all asked her. “It takes the mystique out of it,” Blatteau said. “They see her working hard.” Students realize that grades come from effort, not just being smart or talented, she explained. The lesson: “Actually this is in your control.”

“It’s really huge for us,” said Assistant Principal Judy Puglisi, describing the new advisory program. Its very helpful to have a “point person overseeing all aspects of student performance,” she said.

The new emphasis on scheduled appointments on report card night has been successful, Puglisi said. Parents are told that the meetings are “mandatory, but we’ll set it up at your convenience,” she said.

The result has been a doubling of parent attendance. In the past, report card night would attract only about 25 percent of all parents. On Thursday, 50 percent of parents had shown up, and with more parent-teacher conferences scheduled for the next several days, Puglisi said the school would meet its goal of 90 percent.

Some previous stories about New Haven’s school reform drive:

Parents Challenged To Join Reform Drive
Where Do Bad Teachers Go?
Reform Committees Set
Mayo Extends Olive Branch
School Board Makes Mom Cry
Next Term Will Determine Mayor’s Legacy
Reading Target Set: 90% By February
Teacher Pact Applauded; Will $$ Follow?
Mayor “Not Scared” By $100M
Useful Applause: Duncan, AFT Praise City
Reformer Moves Inside
After Teacher Vote, Mayo Seeks “Grand Slam”
Will Teacher Contract Bring D.C. Reward?
What About The Parents?
Teachers, City Reach Tentative Pact
Philanthropists Join School Reform Drive
Wanted: Great Teachers
“Class of 2026” Gets Started
Principal Keeps School On The Move
With National Push, Reform Talks Advance
Nice New School! Now Do Your Homework
Mayo Unveils Discipline Plan
Mayor Launches “School Change” Campaign
Reform Drive Snags “New Teacher” Team
Can He Work School Reform Magic?
Some Parental Non-Involvement Is OK, Too
Mayor: Close Failing Schools
Union Chief: Don’t Blame The Teachers
3-Tiered School Reform Comes Into Focus
At NAACP, Mayo Outlines School Reform
Post Created To Bring In School Reform
Board of Ed Assembles Legal Team

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posted by: Wicked Lester on November 20, 2009  4:17pm

“...became part of a new experiment”

New Haven’s magnet schools have been doing this for years.

posted by: some informatin please on November 20, 2009  4:38pm

It would be helpful to know some statistics such as a listing of the percentage of parents who attend report card night at every school or meet with the teacher, how many parents attend PTO meetings, and the numbers of suspensions and expulsions at each school.

I am impressed with CT Scholars approach.  I haven’t heard this at some magnet schools so maybe it depends on the principal.

posted by: Vivian on November 21, 2009  3:31am

thank you for this.

posted by: Observer on November 21, 2009  8:06am

This is definately a work in progress. The lines were so long to see my son’s teachers that we finally gave up. Elective teachers didn’t show up at all. If you are handing out a grade I want to talk to you. We had to choose between waiting in the hall for the teacher or attending the school’s “town meeting”. We are new to the district, attending a magnet school this year, and all I keep hearing is that they want involved parents. I will believe that when even one of my emails to the staff gets a reply. It is not just their job to respond to parents, it is simply good manners.

posted by: teachergal on November 21, 2009  9:51am

“CT Scholars is pioneering a new approach to report card night and parent-teacher conferences”

Not to take anything away from CT Scholars, BUT Benjamin Jepson Multiage Magnet was the first to implement this type of conference @ least 15 years ago. It was new then and a few of the Jepson staff actually presented it’s use at a conference in St.Louis.

Unfortunately, it was not something teachers in other NH schools were interested in at that point in time. Many of our strategies at the time were considered too alternative for the times. We were labeled the “hippy school” BUT I can say we had some wonderful, effective initiatives in place “back in the day”.

I still remember being amazed at the ability of a second/third grader to sit with their work portfolio and share his/her successes and weaknesses with their parents or significant others. Sometimes whole families would show up to share in the experience. Families and students will be so proud and could really get a sense of what their child was learning in school. Students would be able to increase their self-esteem. 

Glad to see CT Scholars onboard with this type of conference! I’m sure we have some Jepson Graduates there now who are quite familiar with the process!

posted by: teachergal on November 22, 2009  10:26am

Observer….as I recall when we did it at the elementary level, we scheduled appointments with families to avoid that waiting in line problem.

Additionally, back in the day, we would dismiss the kids @ 1:00 providing a whole afternoon and early evening to meet with parents.

Reform committeee….are you listening? The time allowed for conferences is certainly not enough time to do student/parent/teacher conferences justice.