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Computerized Report Cards

by Dan Delong

the Ontario Government's computerized report card initiative not only aims to standardize the appearance and format of reports, but also the actual words used by teachers. FileMaker Pro was chosen because it is an excellent data base; hence, report card data could be run through the mainframe computers owned by local boards and the provincial government. Also, FileMaker Pro runs on Pc's and Mac's. Although every effort has been made to give FileMaker Pro a user friendly face, many glitches have surfaced; and more continue to appear with every revision and "improvement". The scripting code needed to run these templates is very complex. FileMaker just cannot do some of the things teachers want in a report card program. The version used in my area needs to run on a powerful (i.e. expensive) 32-bit, Windows 95 computer. Data loss situations have been heartbreaking for many teachers. We suffer so that the government gets its supply of data - fodder for their computers. Sad, because the Ontario Government is so talented in the "How to Lie With Statistics" department.

Teachers feel compelled to purchase home computers and laser printers because:

  • Work must be done at home between family responsibilities.
  • There are not enough computers capable of running the software at school.
  • Schools are locked up early (closed on weekends).
  • Laser printers are in short supply.
  • Untrustworthy hardware breaks down at school.
  • Stodgy equipment borrowing policies limit access.
  • Teachers have been ordered to comply by board officials and local administrators.

An alternative to FileMaker might be a sophisticated macro created for MS Word or WordPerfect. Simply using the autotext feature in these programs makes keyboarding much easier. The best solution, from the point of view of the teacher, is a program designed from scratch - by teachers and for teachers - with concessions included for administrative convenience. Unfortunately, our reports came from the top down, designed for administrative convenience first. (For many years, we successfully used an extremely well designed, locally developed DOS program, that had been highly refined through teacher input.)

Teachers have complained about the greater time needed to complete their reports on a computer. This situation should improve as experience grows. Since hands-on training has been minimal, we are learning through trial and error. The government and our local support people have written helpful manuals. My own board set up an evening telephone help line and an electronic bulletin board conference area. Some schools operated on extended hours, letting teachers bring their children - making report card writing a more enjoyable, group-think event. A few teachers have hired parents to word process their reports. Such a shame, since one such teacher handwrites beautifully. It is painful to watch two finger typists spend countless hours entering comments this way. Thank goodness for Windows Copy/Paste, which we may use with abandon when entering these official, stale, bafflegab loaded comments.

The standardized reports are just one of the methods by which this government is attempting to standardize the teachers of Ontario, the new "units of production" on the educational assembly line.

In order to please parents (voters), a mark of R (remedial) is given to students not meeting the expectations for the subject strand. When R's are given, we are placed in the untennable position of having to provide individual assistance in the classroom, without smaller classes, without aids, and with shrinking special education facilities. Rumour has it that if this government is re-elected, their next move will be to limit access to remedial education assistance to students who have been identified as needing such assistance by an outside, private agency - an agency which only the wealthier parents can patronize. Who gets blamed when it doesn't work? Catch 22! And by the way, we do not receive tax relief when purchasing personal computers for school use, even though this is an option available to boards and governments.


Dan Delong is one more still angry teacher in Ontario.
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