Report card change cartoon

Report Card Blues

As I visited schools in March, report cards were very much the topic of the day. It was that season, and many people were in the middle of writing them.  They’re a lot of work, especially for elementary teachers, and we have to wonder just how “communicative” they are about what students are actually learning.  Are they really doing what they’re supposed to do, communicate student learning, or are they a time-consuming ritual that uses words and symbols that  don’t really communicate much at all?

Along with pleas to somehow make reports less time consuming, some teachers mentioned that the format doesn’t really reflect how they’ve come to view student learning and how to evaluate their work, let alone communicate about it.

And that’s the crux of the matter – how do we communicate student learning in a way that both empowers students and really informs their parents or guardians about what they’re learning?

The Report Card has an iconic status in the world of the the school house, and many people consider it a legal document and treat it with the gravity reserved for such things.  Be that as it may, this means nothing if what arrives at home is incomprehensible, confusing or worse yet, spirit crushing.

Grade 2 percents 2

My Grade Two mark breakdown circa 1950 something. Standards were high, though it’s a little unclear how the marks I got  on the left related to these numbers. Might be better not to know


Rather than to solve this dilemma single handed,  I thought I’d start with a little background research about report cards.  My research base was pretty thin.  I looked at my own report cards.  Most of these have fluttered away with the wind, or turned to dust to to age, but I did manage to dig up my Grade 2 Report Card from St Ann’s School in Midland, Texas.  Along with the little-known fact that I actually lived in Texas, I’ll share these relics with you, and if you want a closer look, just click on the picture.  So here we have:

  • The grade breakdown at SAS  (things were tough back then, and I had to walk to school too)
  • My actual “marks” (OK, they were pretty good, but who knows what they were based on?)
  • The work habits section (this is a non report, but check out the idea of work habits)
Grade 2

My “grades” at age 7.  I just noticed that in term 2 after three A’s in a row I got an exam mark of “B” in reading. What??

Work Habits

My Grade Two work habits. Note two things. Some seem a little hard to assess, e.g. “observes traffic safety rules”, and the default was if there’s no check mark, there’s no problem.












Here are a couple more recent reports.  One is from the 80′s and it’s one of my own kid’s report cards.  It’s  positive (I think), but not exactly polished.  It looks like a museum piece with all that convoluted cursive writing wandering all over the place.   The other one is relatively current, and heavily redacted, as I’m not sure who it belongs to or who wrote it.  It’s easier to read, but still very heavy on prose.

Long form

Handcrafted report, circa late 80′s

Current RC 2

Richmond Elementary Report Card. It’s tidier, but is it more communicative?

So the question is, do any or all of these samples actually tell a parent much about what the child is learning?  I’d like to know what you think, because it’s time we thought about it, and I know you’re doing that already.

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