The report card is eagerly greeted by the “best” student and generally dreaded by everyone else. It is inevitably used as a means for comparison represented by the presentation of valedictorian and salutatorian awards at end of year ceremonies that tend to emphasize the reality that only a few will be acknowledged and celebrated. And while international test scores like PISA are touted to show how behind the USA is compared with countries like Finland, it is clearly not a predictor of economic success. For example, the USA is higher than Finland in GDP per capita, is more competitive, is more innovative, and has higher wages per capita (though not by much!). In other international comparisons, TIMSS scores are interestingly correlated such that countries with the highest scores also demonstrate less interest, enjoyment, and (oddly) confidence in the subject.

But the tide is turning at least a little bit. Ranking students is no longer as common as it once was. Awards ceremonies are looking more diverse in who the school appreciates. And there is growing interest in rethinking the report card. In 2016 Yong Zhao and his collaborators published Counting What Counts: Reframing Education Outcomes, an important contribution to a growing literature on assessment. A key question the report card answers is whether the student is prepared to take the next educational step. This has been defined in purely ‘academic’ terms in the past, and the word academic has also been defined narrowly in terms of how it is measured. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that there needs to be a wider definition of what the word prepared means, especially given the intent of many school’s mission statements to prepare their students for life, not just for college.

Zhao comments: “Many traditionally undervalued human talents and attributes have become visibly valuable… students are differently talented resulting from individual differences in nature and nurture… not all students have the same interests, nor should they… most importantly, an education that preserves or even amplifies human diversity is much more valuable than one that reduces it… we need to assess how education contributes to enhancing individual’s talents rather than its effectiveness in homogenizing” (pp. 170-171).

How might that begin to translate into the report card in your school? Consider the following suggestions as a starting point for how you might individually, as a team, or as a school rethink the report card:

a. Use the academic skills lists to recognize the learning journey of the child e.g. instead of providing a single grade to encapsulate a term/semester’s work, provide a picture of the child’s progress towards the learning objective. The achievement level represents the skill level of the child at the point of reporting, not an average of the child’s efforts throughout the learning period.

  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Achievement level
Writing with point of view 1.2 1.5 1.5 2.0 2.3 3.1 3.1
Analyze and interpret 2.3 2.5 2.5

2.6

2.7 3.0 3.0

b. Include a narrative portion of the report card to reflect non-cognitive skills that you, your team, or your school have identified as key to learning e.g. self-reflection, considering others, perseverance, ability to work in teams, self-discipline. The report card might list all the qualities – the narrative would comment on a particular one that the child had particularly made progress on using specific example e.g.

“Student X, even though an introvert, has made great strides in his willingness to talk with and cooperate with other students in organized collaborative learning activities.

These two practices, reporting a journey rather than a snapshot and considering qualities that are preparation-for-life skills, are both simple and profound. Simple because they are not hard to do. Profound because doing them would change the assumptions behind what ‘doing school’ means and empower you as teachers to help each student learn both successfully and holistically.