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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reporting on Report Cards

My First & Second Grade Report Cards
"Why don't you just give them all A's!" shouted my daughter this afternoon!  It never fails...I hear the same request from either my sister, mother, husband, cousin, friend, neighbor, or local teen every time I sit down to spend the day to write out my students' report cards.

Do they really all think that teachers just 'GIVE' grades based on some nebulous reason?  Don't they understand that teachers work long hours finding sums and averages based on the student's assessments? Or don't they realize that hours are spent filling in checklists based on whether the student has completed the standards set by the state?

The business of report cards is a touchy subject at best.  When mentioned in most any setting it brings recounts of days gone by.

"Do you remember when I locked myself in the bathroom and wouldn't come out? How I shoved my report card under the door for mom and dad?" my sister asked me.  Apparently, her report card was not one that she was proud of and was in fact rather embarrassed by it.  "What happened?  I thought you were always an "A" student!" I probed further.

Well, it started out like this......She was an all "A" student in elementary school (something which I was NOT).  When she got to junior high school she was an "A" student as well.  But one day, in science her class was asked to collect insect specimens in jars with the intent of eventually mounting them on a board.  They were supposed to collect 50.  She was horrified with the activity and would not participate.  And so, led to the decline of her straight "A" days.  Since she wouldn't complete the project she was given a zero (that day till the end of the project) and subsequently received an "F" in the class.   Each day she would go into science class and feel worse and worse about the events taking place.  Knowing she was failing made her try less.

Did she receive the "F" because she didn't KNOW the information? Or wasn't learning?  Or was it an "F" based on effort?  How should she have been graded? 

I think the following video by Rick Wormeli (author of Fair Isn't Always Equal: Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom) explains what most likely happened to my sister.


Report cards are supposed to share information about a child's progress in the classroom.  Some think the traditional report card tells parents very little about what their child really knows.  While some others prefer this method because of the familiarity or comfort level.

Many communities have already or are moving towards a Standards Based Report Card, but these can be confusing. Check out how one community explains the purpose and application of its Standard Based Report Card in this video.

Check out this student's thought's on Standards-based Grading!

Whichever, system is used, it is important to give feedback to our students and their parents about how they are progressing in school.  Is there evidence of learning?

                    Do you have a favorite REPORT CARD MEMORY?  
Leave it in the comment section!


  1. Hi Nan;

    I read and watched all about report cards and I agree that they system should be changed.

    I also read and watched about Earthquackes and Tsunamis and I learned a lot.

    Just like going back to school.

    Keep up the good work

    Love, Dad

  2. Rick Wormeli clip very interesting and thought provoking. I personally thought grading was cut and dried. I honestly didn't think educators gave that much thought to the grades that they were handing out. Your post an eye opener for the "average" guy and a renewed respect for the profession. Thank you!

  3. Thank you Dad and Carol Ann for commenting. Teachers do put a lot of thought and effort into grading. Even more so now-a-days that we have the standards set by the state. I think focusing on the standards and basing progress reports on those makes more sense. It will be less subjective and not based on whether or not you've turned in homework or put forth effort. Those are important but shouldn't be the measure of your learning. Does this make sense?

    Again, thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my post.

    Dad, by far the most viewed post has been the Tsunami/Earthquake one.

  4. Hi Nancy,
    read this post of yours a few days ago. I wanted to thank you for commenting at my place and also tell you that I really emphatize with you for the grading. I wish I could help ;) I really think grading is the hardest task as a teacher. It really takes a lot of time and effort, and you really have to make sure that you get enough "stuff" over the year that you can give a just grade in the end. I wish you luck and keep up the good work!

  5. Hi Anna,
    Thanks for stopping by. I loved your Wallwisher and tried to add it here and it didn't quite work. Another day. Grading is tough - I heard again today from someone that I should just give the kids A's. Do you think if I did that it would mean anything to them? Or do you think they would be thrilled? Perhaps I will start a wallwisher for my students and get their thoughts.

    Thanks again.

  6. Hi again,
    your sticky is there. I just put that I want to approve it before it gets posted. To avoid spam since I tweeted it.
    No, I don't think just giving A's would do it. Then someone else has to make the decision if the kids are to go to this or that school or do this or that job. Unfortunately our society is built on that we are grouping people after skills/achievments, it sounds awful when you put it in writing like this doesn't it?
    Anyway I think it is a good idea to get the students to think about the purpose of grading and also make them see that they have an influence on what grade they get.
    I would love to read what your students think about it!

  7. I'm retired now! My colleague and I just had a conversation about the amount of time it took us to fill out report cards and how happy we are not to have to do that anymore. I spent hours upon hours on them even at a K and 1st grade level. Accuracy and input are so important. Of course, I became known for my thoroughness/wordiness (surprised?) of reporting, but parents definitely got a clear picture of their child's standing. But now, it's clearly something I want to put behind me.

    Interesting video though. In college, I had a class whereby the prof had us grade our own work. I've always questioned an A as there's always room for improvement as well as an F--just attending should get you something more.

    Grades make such an impact on how we perceive ourselves and others. I've always been against them and believe the important aspect of assessment is that individual progress is being made.

  8. That was good. I recently took a statistical process control class at WPI and he reminds me of the brilliant guy who taught it, Jim Leonard, who also spoke similarly about the subject. He even wrote a book about transforming K-12 by Deming’s philosophies on variation. Regarding averages and how they don’t accurately reflect what’s really happening Jim would ask, “Can you drown in a river with an “average” depth of 6 inches?” Most would say no and then he’d answer “Of course you can! If somewhere along the river, the depth is 6 feet!”.

  9. Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. @ Anonymous #1: I agree that grades make such an impact on how we perceive ourselves and others. Sometimes you get a student who gets A's without really trying or learning along the way and then you have those who struggle day in and day out, but are learning at their own rate and receive C's. There needs to be a way to report progression without affecting someone's perceptions. Isn't it great that retired teachers are still thinking about student progress?

    @Anonymous #2: Would love to read Jim Leonard's book. Looking at the example your professor gave it seems almost silly to grade based upon averages!

    @Anna I think I will ask my students for their input. Will share the data once it's been collected. But, I do agree that giving just A's isn't a viable answer or a responsible one either.

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments.

  10. I also think fair is not always equal. Students need to know their progress throughout the semester or quarter. They need to take ownership so there isn't any surprises when that report comes out. Does this card really show a picture of student learning? There has to be another way to show student achievement.

  11. Nancy,
    This is a great blog post. I see from the comments we all like to talk about the grading system rather than stories of report cards. Rick Wormeli's video was insightful. I thought he made a great point with the averaging of temperatures. I've saved your post to my Diigo folder on Grading. Hopefully it can help guide the discussion at my school.

    Thanks again,

  12. Thanks Ryan and Denise for your comments.

    @ Ryan: You are right that Fair is not always equal. That's where differentiation comes into play. I agree with you that there should be no surprises when the report card comes around. Students and their parents should already have an idea of what kind of progress is being made.

    @ Denise: Rick Wormeli really made me think and I would love to share that with some folks in our district. I truly think we are getting away from that 'averaging' way of thinking (at least at the elementary level). Would love to hear how your midlev teachers feel about it.

    Thank you both for taking the time to comment!


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