• Michael Morris

Paper Report Cards: Wasteful, Inefficient, and Obsolete


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Five pages per report card.

Four times per year.

1200 students.

All in one school.

Do the math. It approximates to 24,000 pages of paper per year at Citadel High alone, just on report cards. That’s not even considering the other 136 schools in the HRSB, some of whom use paper envelopes to distribute report cards. The total paper usage could realistically approach one million pages per year, using the HRSB website’s figure of 48,000 students. That equals about 120 trees. Just for report cards. And the sad part is, it’s all unnecessary, every last page.

The technology now exists for report cards to become obsolete, and it has been used throughout the province for some time. PowerSchool, when used properly, allows students and parents to track progress on a daily basis, as soon as the teacher is finished marking an assignment. Gone are the days when parents’ only insight into their child’s performance in school comes twice a semester (or less, if a certain phone message mysteriously disappears before it gets heard). They can track attendance, grades, and more as long as they can access the internet at some place, whether that be at home, work, a public library, or a multitude of other places that offer free WiFi. Schools could even offer a time for parents to use the school’s computers to check PowerSchool, such as during parent-teacher interviews.

Now, some might argue, “Report cards offer an opportunity for teachers to provide feedback in addition to quantitative marks, something that is not offered through PowerSchool.” And they would be technically correct, yet also could not be more wrong. The true opportunity for specific feedback comes not through the cookie-cutter text boxes of report cards, but rather through the face-to-face interaction of parent-teacher interviews. The students, teachers, and administration alike recognize the comments as a necessary formality that carry very little weight. The information and feedback one can give through a ten minute conversation is orders of magnitude greater than that which can be expressed through 50 words or less, and it provides a much more personal experience, where clarity can be made and parents can share their thoughts as well.

And if the comments on report cards really are necessary, then it would surely be possible to add a section on PowerSchool for teachers to add written comments relating to a course in addition to numerical or letter grades. Because parents really want to be involved in their child’s education, many are already be taking advantage of these other, pre-existing methods to interact with teachers and track their child’s progress anyhow.

The type of colossal, unnecessary paper usage exemplified here is something that’s got to change, not just in Nova Scotia, and not just in respect to report cards, but around the world. Schools already strive to be environmentally friendly by promoting recycling, eco-friendly methods of transportation, and responsible printer use, but some of this goes to waste by continuing the antiquated practice of handing out paper report cards. Even if paper report cards weren’t eliminated, reducing the paper use by eliminating courses not taken that semester, replacing the teacher comments with an encouragement to attend parent-teacher interviews, and printing the pages double-sided could go a long way in helping the environment.

4,800 wasted pages per year doesn’t look great, but it’s much, much better than 24,000.

Image credit: “Report Card” by AJ Cann, CC BY-NC-SA-2.0