Report Card: Academic or Intellectual Skills?

ReportcardAs my faculty and I embark on the journey into creating our next generation ‘report card’ (i.e. progress report), I am compelled to – once again – ask a most important question: What is it we want to assess and share? Do we want to concentrate on academic goals built around Common Core or other standards? Or do we want to reflect student growth on an intellectual path.

To my mind ‘academic skills’ are synonymous with those bits of discreet learning we call behavioral objectives, anticipated outcomes, or standards. These disconnected bits of learning are often taught using pre-scripted curriculum, practiced using tedious and unimaginative paper and pencil tasks and rote memorization, and seldom revisited or connected to other academic skills or disciplines. The customary assessment for academic skills is a teacher or publisher created exam, or standardized test. And the usual parent reporting mechanism is a value-laden rating document that clumps learners into categories from top-notch to don’t-even-bother-to-ask. Students seldom reflect on this type of learning or its evaluation, but proceed mindlessly from one grade to another.

This is not to imply that ‘academic skills’ have no place in today’s classrooms. Far from it! It is essential, especially in the lower elementary grades, that children learn basic numeracy and literacy skills because these competencies comprise the foundation of all future learning. Direct instruction does and will always have a place in classrooms.

‘Intellectual skill’ development, on the other hand, connotes mental, cerebral, cognitive, rational, abstract, conceptual, theoretical, analytical, and logical turns of mind. Arguably these mental constructs engage the brain at a higher level (think Bloom’s Taxonomy) and can
convey aesthetic and altruistic perceptions or insights. Because children, even those in pre-school, possess a natural need to find-out, stimulating ‘intellectual skill’ development is not as difficult as some instructors might imagine. Students at any age eagerly investigate topics or ideas by asking questions, posing hypotheses, and digging deeper. It is through these ‘intellectual’ pursuits that students are motivated to master the ‘academic skills’ needed to promote inquiry. Embedding ‘academic skills’ into ‘intellectual’ investigation is the root of ‘authentic learning.’

What is highly consequential to us as we reconstruct our parent/student reporting system is that our discerning teachers find a developmentally appropriate balance between academic and intellectual pedagogy; and that our documentation of student growth reflects this balance. That is where new assessment and reporting platforms like Novare Education can lend a hand.


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