October 31, 2021


Just last week, I was speaking with a colleague about the new report card format that is being used in her system. She shared with me that almost as soon as that new format was released, emails and calls started flooding her office – even though feedback had been collected from staff, parents, and students for the past year. Because we were talking by phone (a welcome relief from virtual meetings), she could not see a smile of recognition cross my face; I was recalling a very similar experience that I had had just over a decade ago.

It seems as if school systems are constantly searching for the “right” report card. And, inevitably, as soon as one is completed, a committee is struck to review it. Might it be that we are focusing on the wrong thing, as the report card is only one part of a much bigger reporting process that informs both students and parents about learning all along the way?

Writing report cards does not begin in the moments we organize our desktop and open the first student’s file. Writing report cards begins, quite literally, at the start of the term or semester, when we are preparing for student learning by:

  • determining the learning destination,
  • researching expected quality levels,
  • planning to collect reliable and valid evidence of learning, and
  • collecting baseline evidence of learning.

Writing reports cards is also informed by the constant iteration of instruction, as we engage our learners by:

  • describing the learning destination and expected quality,
  • involving them and providing time and support for them to learn,
  • teaching to their unique needs, and
  • collecting reliable and valid evidence of learning.

And then, at the end, we report learning and achievement using the required format by:

  • finalizing students’ collections of evidence,
  • making informed professional judgments, and
  • involving students in communicating their progress and growth to others.

Simply put, it is the process that matters most. Writing report cards is made much easier when it is a part of that process, rather than an event in and of itself. It is not separate from and unconnected to a cycle of learning and teaching that deeply involves the learner.

As we write in our books A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting in High Schools (2014) and Grading, Reporting, and Professional Judgment in Elementary Classrooms (2015), “Reporting is less stressful and can be done in confidence when they are the last steps in a purposeful, systematic, multi-step process that does not come into play just at the end of learning.”