Another Failed Report Card

I thought I had dealt with it right; have students grade themselves for the trimester since I have to post grades then.  At least they would be coming from the students rather than just me.  Since we have switched to standards based report cards, I projected and explained what each category meant on this new report card.  Then we discussed what a “3” meant vs a “4” and off they went.  They handed them in, I looked them over and highlighted anything I wanted to discuss.

At conferences I pulled them out and asked the students about the highlighted areas.  Blank stares.  I then prodded a little bit more, why would you give yourself this grade, what was your thought process?  Blank stare, then cleared throats,….”I’m actually not sure what that means so I just put a number there…”


These kids, even after I explain what the things are I am grading them on, they have no clue what it really is.  Perhaps it is due to poorly written report card language, perhaps it is due to not speaking educationalese, perhaps it is due to that what we grade them on most of the time seems to bear little resemblance to what we do in our classrooms, the discussions we have.  Sure, we discuss and use the term comprehension strategies but if they are all lumped together in one box, then how will a child know if they use all of them well or just some of them.  How will they know what that even means, to use them?  And does it really matter?  Parents don’t know what they mean either and they come armed with years of schooling and college degrees.  So we think of attaching explanation sheets to the report cards just so they can have some sort of a clue as to the terms we so flippantly throw around.  Now do you get it, it seems to scream.

We move toward better report cards so that we hope to better tell parents what their child has mastered or not, but in the end, when we create report cards that bear little resemblance to the conversation that happens within the classroom, what does it really matter?  Should I once again change the way I teach to make sure I use terms that will appear on a reportcard, even though those terms do not always fit what we are teaching or even within the understanding of my students?  Should I barge on, use the terms, just so students may know what they mean when they get their grades?  Or should we ask the students what the report card should look like so that they could take ownership of their learning journey?

I dont have the answers, do you?


9 thoughts on “Another Failed Report Card

  1. Our school doesn't seem to have the answers, so we do everything. We give students 1-4 in course content categories and community behavior (about 10 check-boxes). Then we give them a letter grade. Next we write a narrative essay on the child's trimester performance. Finally we have a conference with the parents. It's exhausting. Whatever the solution is, I hope it simplifies things.

  2. Thank you for asking these very hard questions around report cards. It is very timely as my school handed out these just yesterday. I understand the need to have formal reporting periods but I still dislike them tremendously.From the first day in September I work with my students to understand it is about the learning and not the end mark. We often share, reflect and plan on where we were and where we want to go. Report cards do not reflect this kind of learning. How can we change this? What should our report cards look like? How do we communicate to the powers that be that times are a changin'. So many questions with so few answers. Thanks again for keeping this conversation going.

  3. Thank you for this post! My daughter is in junior high and she has to do a weekly writing log: title, pages read, one sentence on topic. That's it. The idea is supposed to be that she reads 140 pages a week (20 pages a day) and I guess this is the "assessment." It is on a half-sheet of paper. AND…I am supposed to sign it. It drives me crazy. Here's what she is learning: compliance. This is in no way assessing her reading. She, like most of her friends, sits at the table the morning the log is due and scribbles things onto the sheet.I have advocated for blogs: at least then there would be time-stamps on the posts, showing the students are truly reading over the course of the week, much like practicing for a sport–over time, building up endurance. I have questioned what exactly this log "assesses." I flat out told the teacher that my daughter makes things up on Tuesday morning AND I sign it. I don't fault the teacher. She is meeting the district standard as best she can with 140 students a day. And my daughter is learning–she's learning how to game/play the system. And she's learning that the Fs on her grade report mean she failed to comply; she's learning that her intelligence and curiosity are totally detached from her grades. I am curious to see how this lesson builds as she progresses through high school…

  4. I'm not sure if there is "an answer" but one excellent guideline is to look for evidence of learning and show it directly to parents, with commentary or reflective feedback form the teacher AND student on the evidence of learning. Here is an example:Student writes a descriptive paragraph using strategies explicitly taught in class teacher comments on it or conferences with student. Scan this piece of paper into an e-portfolio (shared with parents electronically). Student uses feedback to improve their writing and types it into a document. Teacher gives feedback to parents as to how this evidence shows the student's writing development. Don't do this for every project or assignemnt,but choose one in each subject area that demonstrates growth. Here's the other key – don't communicate this to parents 3 times a year on a piece of paper, it should be an ongoing work in progress throughout the year (kind of like the learning process itself)As long as we continue to rely on written reports containing second-hand evaluation (by teachers) of work that parents never actually see we will never get reporting to align with learning.Thanks for making me think this morning!

  5. I agree reporting should be a year-long ongoing process that is easily understood by all stakeholders. I suggest a system that reports what is important. As far as I can tell the important details are revealed in the responses to these questions:Is the student demonstrating his or her learning?Does the student need support in any area to assist learning?What actions could be taken by stakeholders to provide the identified support?Quantifying learning can be subjective. The 'old way' did not inform anyone of important details. It seems these 'new ways' are not either.

  6. It is unfortunate that we elevate the end of term report card to the status it currently seems to enjoy. If there really is anything new or newsworthy to a student or parent, then I think we have dropped the ball in terms of communication and formative assessment.Most schools have student portals, blogs, twitter feeds, email, etc….. So why the incredible stress levels around a document that has so little affect?

  7. I am struggling with the same questions in my classroom. this is the process I am going through to try to create something useful to my learners, to me and to the parents of my learners. Along with this written report I feel that portfolios are also a way to chow progress. Portfolios are made so much easier with the use of technology and I have been playing around with them for the last couple of years. I haven't come up with anything I love yet! If you get any answers could you send them my way.Thanks,Sarah

  8. At the beginning of the year, I sent a letter home with the assessment standards. I have Grade 2 students, so I try to stick to the standards of the report card. Grading is confusing for them if there are too many variations. Throughout the year, I would establish the criteria with the students and create checklists for tasks. I also create exemplars of what a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 might look like on the smart board for reference. In each term, I send a couple of marked assignments home with the checklists attached. Students are to discuss them with parents and explain how they could improve. I really liked Kyle Timms' idea. This year, I will scan a beginning work sample and with a recent one to help parents understand learning is work in progress.

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