Reporting to parents, continued

A while back, I wrote about information that Dreambox and XtraMath send to parents about their child’s progress. Now I’d like to share some more actual feedback, but with a different contrast, brought to my attention by an alert reader.

I will keep the source anonymous by request.

Consider these two year-end summaries, both for the same child. One is by the child’s regular classroom teacher, and the other is by the child’s math teacher. This is a school where children are shuffled for math instruction.


[Child] has worked hard in third grade to increase her literacy skills in becoming a life-long reader and writer. She’s a mindful reader when choosing books of personal interest and challenge level. She reads with superb confidence and stamina. As a reader and writer of nonfiction, [Child] researched an animal of interest and published a book that demonstrated expertise of the topic. She crafted nonfiction text features that reflected her individual voice. She read and analyzed poetry—then applied the tools of a poet to craft individual poems. Wow! You’re an amazing reader and writer! Way to go, [Child]!


[Child] has made progress in math this year. She should work on learning her basic subtraction and multiplication facts over the summer. I have enjoyed having her as a student! Have a wonderful summer, [Child]!

I understand that these are different teachers, and I understand that [Child] probably spent quite a few more hours with the literacy/home teacher than the math teacher. But I don’t think those are the major things at play here.

The difference in the richness of the description of [Child]’s current literacy and growth from the description of [Child]’s mathematical knowledge and growth reflects the ways we view these two subjects in American schooling.

Throughout my own children’s elementary schooling, I have seen deep and rich attention paid to their learning to read and write, and surface, fact-based attention paid to their learning math.

Literacy is about power and beauty and self-actualization. Math is about memorization and speed. These are the ways we represent these subjects to parents, teachers, and children.


10 responses to “Reporting to parents, continued

  1. This is very disheartening to read. Thank you for posting it. Now, how can we effect change?

    • Awareness is important, Glenn, and then be a continual vocal advocate and example for better. Help others to see the problem, and model what it means to do better. That’s all I’ve got.

  2. My understanding is that the math comments were written by a specialist teacher who the child saw periodically but was their primary math instructor. This makes me more surprised that the mathematical perspective was so narrow.

    Some other points that struck me:
    (a) the home teacher did not have anything to add about math. While a lot of schools have moved to a “literacy in everything” approach, math is more likely to be siloed.
    (b) the math comments use entirely growth-mindset language while the home teacher slid back into fixed-mindset terminology. I’m not trying to be super critical, but this illustrate how hard it is to break this habit.
    (c) the kid gets a math assignment over the summer, but not a literacy one, which seems pro-active. However, I suspect this is misleading, since most schools will have some kind of summer reading guidance (usually pretty rich and actionable) while this single sentence may be the only pointer the family gets about math activities.

  3. Mary Beth Schmitt

    Not a surprising discovery…
    The question is how do we shift adult learner beliefs so that they have the depth of understanding to recognize and record how their students learn and grow in their mathematical understandings. How do engage learners to value mathematical literacy?

  4. I’ve seen many report cards in elementary that don’t even speak about math at all. In elementary, I think literacy rules, because that’s what the vast majority of teachers feel confident in. We definitely need to continue work lifting elementary teachers up in mathematics. I wonder what the influence of having the SMP’s on report cards would do??? I wonder if it would give both teachers and parents something to think about as far as what we want from our students.

  5. I agree with the larger point – we teachers need to give more descriptive information to students and parents. I should leave it at that since that is the point you are making.

    Of course, I won’t leave it at that.

    If you look at the literacy comments, they are very generic. I would wager that many of the students in that class got exactly the same comments.

    So we all need to do better – math folks as well as reading folks.

  6. [W]e teachers need to give more descriptive information to students and parents isn’t quite the point I am making here, Seth. You are quite possibly right about the generic nature of the feedback. But if the feedback is generic, then that’s all the more argument that the math stuff should be as empowering as the literacy stuff. It’s not that the math feedback is generic or inadequately descriptive of this child that troubles me. It’s that these are the places where we (everyone involved in schools) sends messages about what math is. “This child is a poet” is such a different message from “This child needs to work on her subtraction facts”. Why not “This child is a mathematician”? Or “This child posed interesting and creative questions about numbers, patterns, and shapes”? Those are both much more empowering—even if still generic—messages about children’s relationship to math.

    • Christopher – thanks for the reply. I didn’t see your point on my first read. I appreciate the clarification. I agree with your analysis of school’s (and society’s) messaging about math.

  7. As a middle school teacher who coached 4th & 5th grade teachers I have to admit I didn’t even think about report cards. But sending meaningful messages about children’s progress is important! I’ll go back and look at that in August.
    As to middle school, generally just a letter grade with an occasional ‘canned’ comment.
    Yes, we need to do better

  8. Interesting!
    We’re a group of Primary School pupils in the UK trying to change the way maths is treated in our school and make it more interesting on a par with literacy. Check out our blog, which at the moment is mostly all about the Year 6 SATS tests.

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