AI-Generated Report Card Comments Worry Some Parents and Students

The English department. Photo by Olivia Brown.

ChatGPT was used to write comments on first-semester report cards, teachers said in interviews with the Bit. GDS parents and students worried about how ChatGPT would affect the personal touch of comments.

Spanish teacher Nico Sheets told the Bit that he has used ChatGPT to help write report card comments, and history teacher Sue Ikenberry said that she has heard of other teachers considering using ChatGPT to write comments. Some students and parents were indifferent to the use of AI in report card comments, while others were concerned.

Sheets said that he had used ChatGPT to write comments by inputting students’ “qualities” and “things they need to work on” and then paraphrasing what ChatGPT produced in his comments. “I found it really helpful because you’re writing over 50 student comments. Sometimes you get repetitive, and you need some other ways of expressing your ideas,” he added. Sheets said that he thought ChatGPT helped him “formulate ways” to express himself in the comments. 

Max Holtzman, the father of a GDS sophomore, said he thought the AI program was “a great source of efficiency,” but he did not think it could replace teachers’ “actual thoughts about an individual.”

“I don’t think I feel too good about teachers using ChatGPT to write comments, especially when you’re paying the kind of money you pay for a school like GDS,” Holtzman said. “I would be kind of upset as a parent to know that the level of attention in such a small school is being taken away to save five to ten minutes per kid.”

Holtzman said that he thought using the AI program would cause important details to be lost. “ChatGPT might not provide an accurate reflection of how your kid is doing,” he said.

Assistant Principal of Academics Khalid Bashir told the Bit that he hopes any teacher using ChatGPT is “using it in an attempt to better represent their sense of who a kid is as opposed to falsely pretending that they know the kid.”

Five of the students interviewed by the Bit said they thought that comments were useful because they provided personalized feedback.

“Comments on report cards are important for me because it shows that there are actual connections between me and my teacher,” senior Percival Liu said.

Teachers write comments for every student they teach. Comments appear on semester and final report cards and are visible to parents and students. 

Sophomore Tyler Smallwood said that he would be unhappy if his report card comments were written by ChatGPT. He said that teachers “spend a lot of time telling us not to plagiarize and not to use any of these tools to help us.” He added that he thought it would be “hypocritical” for teachers to use ChatGPT.

Senior Jacqueline Metzger said that teachers not telling students about using the AI program for comments is similar to students plagiarizing their assignments. “It’s freaky and a little bit of a betrayal of trust when teachers go and do that,” she said. “If teachers don’t tell us they are using it, it’s the exact same thing they’re telling us not to do.”

Math Department Chair Lee Goldman said there is a difference between students using ChatGPT for essays and teachers using it for report card comments because the AI might prevent students from learning writing skills, while teachers have already developed those skills.

Senior Christian Freeman said that he was in favor of ChatGPT being used in a variety of ways, including to help teachers write comments. “I don’t think that anything that teachers write would be original anyway,” he said. He added that he thought it was difficult for teachers to find new feedback to write when they teach dozens of students.

“I assume that even before ChatGPT, teachers were pasting standard comments about participation through all of their comments,” Suann Song, the parent of a GDS junior, said. She added that as long as teachers personalized the comments they generated from ChatGPT, she was okay with the use of the program.

Ikenberry noted that, overall, “comments are very formulaic, so I can see how it would be pretty easy for the AI to write something.”

According to Goldman, teachers write comments by looking at a student’s grades and taking into consideration notes teachers have taken about the student.

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot that has garnered attention from students, teachers and the administration since its release on Nov. 30, 2022. According to OpenAI, the company that built ChatGPT, the program is “trained to follow an instruction in a prompt and provide a detailed response.” 

To use the program, users enter prompts, and the AI program responds with multi-paragraph explanations. For comments, teachers could input information about a given student, such as his or her grades, written assignments and personal feedback, and have the AI program produce a response.

Metzger told the Bit that she had “mixed feelings” about ChatGPT. She thought the AI program did not produce high-quality writing, so comments produced by it would not meet the same standards as comments written by teachers.

“I feel like comments are meant to be personalized,” sophomore Alessandro Alfandari said, and he thought that comments written by AI would not be as personal. Alfandari said that he would prefer to have comments written by teachers.

Goldman said that, in comments, teachers “want to write the things that are supporting the grade and any suggestions you have for that student moving forward.”

She added that there is an ongoing debate among faculty about whether comments should be written for the students or the parents. “It’s sort of this dual purpose of writing to the parent and to the student,” she said.

Bashir added that while each department has its own process for writing student comments, administrators provide guidelines for teachers.

Bashir said that these guidelines focus on how to effectively communicate constructive feedback to students. “It’s my hope that we continue to bolster those guidelines so that each department gives a clear sense of what should be covered in a comment,” he said. 

Guidelines are presented annually at a faculty meeting, and teachers provide input on policies for the year’s report card comments. 

Goldman said that she was focused on looking at how teachers’ comments help their students “move forward” and improve in the future. She also said that she did not think she would be able to tell if teachers were using ChatGPT to write comments.