being a teacher, communication, grades, parents, Student-centered

Why the Report Card Should Be Getting an F

Several days ago I quickly jotted down thoughts on how one of the major components of education; the report card, may just be becoming obsolete. Immediately the discussion that followed was one that spurred me to think a little deeper on this institution, particularly as I approach the deadline for writing 25 of my own.

The report card used to be useful. Before the age of Internet and faster communication with parents, the report card was the communicator of success or lack of it from school. We have all heard the stories of what happened when a bad report card was brought home and can probably remember our own anticipation or dread when it was handed to us. This was it; the ultimate report on how hard we had worked, how much we knew, and how much we cared about school. The was no conversation, no goals, just grades and teachers recited missives which on mine included the usual, “Pernille should really try to apply herself more.”. Whatever in the world that means.

Yet now, faced with the ever-evolving tools for communication and also teachers own increased visibility and feedback giving, it seems it has lost its purpose. That is if its purpose was to report how the child is doing academically.  Instead many teachers have running grades online; which I don’t actually think is necessarily progress either, or feedback is given to the students or sent home regularly.  In my own classroom, I meet with students regularly setting goals and discussing how they are doing, not even handing them a letter grade but rather feedback and meaningful conversation.  This does get communicated to parents as well either through email, phone calls, or even small meetings.  Conferences also act as a communicator of progress and goals.  I may be in the minority of how I handle progress in my classroom, but I think I am in the growing minority.  So why also do a report card?  It seems to be a duplication of all of the work we already do although it does provide an easy out for those who choose not to communicate throughout the semester.

So if the report card’s purpose is solely to communicate to parents how their child is doing, there are certainly other alternatives.  How about a weekly email or note, penned by the student?  Or a shared Google doc where parents and students can add notes and questions?  Conversations can be recorded using a Livescribe pen and emailed to parents as well, which also creates another record.  In my team we already send home unit math scores breaking down each skill the student has been practicing.  Writing assignments are handed back with a rubric attached and comments on them.  To me, it seems that we already do all of the reporting that is duplicated for the report card.  What about a report card created by students?  I often wonder what they would put weight on and choose to report, and also how it would look.  Either way I think it is time for a change, do you?

So is it time for the report card to disappear or at the very least lose its formality?  Is it time for it to no longer be the final product and instead be a piece of information in a long line of information.  Should we hand back the power of goal communication to the students so that they can take more charge of their education?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

7 thoughts on “Why the Report Card Should Be Getting an F”

  1. I don't know what report cards look like in your jurisdiction, but in BC at the middle and secondary level, the appearance and format is dependent on a province-wide information system that is woefully limiting. We are hopeful that the new interface we are promised will meet our needs and allow more outcome-based reporting for parents plus the flexibility to easily express what a student is learning, how that is going, and where they need to go next. PJ

  2. Thank you Peter, you bring up an excellent point. Report cards all differ and can be incredibly limiting, in my district all grade levels at elementary make their own report cards. They certainly share similarities. It they are not the same, that in itself raises questions as to their purpose and effectiveness.

  3. My most effective and meaningful reporting experience was when I used portfolio and self-evaluation as a report card for middle school math. Kids were responsible for deciding their own scores on each learning outcome and grades for the term based on my ongoing feedback. All I used the reporting system for was the final grade. Now as an administrator in elementary school I see too many teachers spending way too many hours working on reporting. when they should be using that time engaging and assessing.Let's keep working on making report cards obsolete.

  4. As a parent I dread report cards, not because of the marks, but because it means I need to decipher the meaning of standardized edu-speak sentences that fail to give me a good understanding of how my child is doing relative to their own strengths and also to the rest of the class. I always go in to discuss progress with the teacher and find it works so much better. As you say, tests and assignemnts come home through the year, so there should be no surprises. I really like some of the ideas expressed here.

  5. Thank you Denise for the parent perspective and opening up another angle to this discussion. I always wonder what parents think of our report card and have definitely had a lot of deciphering discussions about them. So what if we handed our report card creation to a team of teachers,parents, and kids? It would be interesting to see where the emphasis would be and also whether there even would be a need for a report card anymore.

  6. I am both a teacher (middle school history 150+ students) and a mother of a 10 year old 5th grader. I am completely frustrated by the limiting aspect of letter grades. Just as some students in my class, my son has a good memory and does well with analytical thinking. So he basically consistently gets straight A+s in every academic area. What I want to know is how is his process writing going, not just applying the writing "formula" but his ability to think outside of the formula. How is his critical thinking progressing? On the report card under critical thinking there is an S. What is the measurement for satisfactory? How does she handle the fact that he can remember all types of "facts" but consistently forget his homework, and is basically an organizational mess? In my class, I see students who are good readers and writers and know how to play the game of school and translate that into "A"s. When I write extensive notes by each assignment (Powerschool)I get responses from parents like, "He/She got an A, that's all I really needed to know"….sigh..On the other hand, I consistently hear elementary teachers in my district complain about the amount of time standards based grading takes, but as a parent (and to the teachers who will have the student in the future) it is so much more meaningful.

  7. I too believe the practice of focusing on independent goals and moving students forward through reflection and self assessment is within the realm of the 'growing minority'. I think there will be a stage beyond the current standards-based grading practice that will be enabled by technology, and I also believe this shift is right around the corner. Using a shared Google Doc, a student's blog about their growth and progress, or even observations recorded and sent immediately through email, as you suggested. With using daily formative assessment and immediate feedback students grow at an incredible rate… Thus, parents need more immediate feedback regarding specific strategies and goals, not scores and marks. That's why I love student-led conferencing because it becomes more about student strengths and goals rather than the report card. But hopefully students have the information and tools to have these conversations with their parents more than 2-3 times a year… You can read more of my thoughts on my own post. (I have been enjoying my own personal reflection on this topic, so thank you!) -Celina

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