My current school district is about to begin the process of examining our standards-based report cards, particularly at the elementary level. When I was made aware of this initiative, I had just finished reading Fair Isn’t Always Equal by Rick Wormeli and How to Grade for Learning by Ken O’Connor, and I was in the process of making my way through Developing Standards-Based Report Cards by Thomas Guskey and Jane Bailey. Without hesitation, I highly recommend all three. While one of my previous posts is based on Wormeli’s book, this post is based mostly on the work of Guskey and Bailey. (Inspiration from O’Connor is sprinkled throughout both, and I will dedicate more time to his book in the future.) I should also mention that the contents of each book are not mutually exclusive, as there is definitely a great deal of overlap when discussing assessing and grading in the standards-based classroom. However, Wormeli tends to focus more on daily instruction, while Guskey and Bailey provide more research for standards-based report cards.
Based on my reading and highlighting, here are four points to consider when creating or revising standards-based report cards:
A Clear Purpose: Guskey and Bailey (2010) announce, “Nearly every failed effort to revise the report card that we know of can be traced to the lack of a well-defined and commonly understood purpose” (p. 25). Before anything else is decided, the purpose of the report card must be determined. Furthermore, upon its completion, it should be printed on the form. Guskey and Bailey (2010) provide a few purpose statements that have been used by different districts. One such example reads, “The purpose of this report card is to describe students’ learning progress to their parents and others, based on our school’s learning expectations for each grade level. It is intended to inform parents and guardians about learning successes and to guide improvements when needed” (p. 35). Keep in mind that the specific purpose of the report card is subject to change as students progress through each level of schooling.
Parent and Student Involvement: “The report card should communicate clear and ambiguous information about students’ performance to parents, students, and others” (Guskey & Bailey, 2010, p. 7). Therefore, consider involving these parties in the report card creation process, in one way or another, or at least provide them with opportunities to offer feedback after implementation. At the elementary level, the primary audience for report cards is usually the parents, but this changes as students get older. “In the upper elementary grades, and especially in middle school and high school, however, educators increasingly see students as another important recipient of the information in the report card” (Guskey & Bailey, 2010, p. 135). Ultimately, we want students and parents to utilize their report cards as part of the formative assessment process, so we must make sure that each report card functions as a “feedback device” that helps in driving learning and instruction. If parents and/or students have a say in what type of feedback is provided and in what format it is presented, there is a stronger chance that they will be able to make use of the information.
Reporting Standards: “Unfortunately, in many jurisdictions, there are too many standards and/or teachers have too many students to manage tracking of every standard for every student, so they must find a compromise” (O’Connor, 2009, p. 49). In dealing with report cards, here are five recommendations for dealing with this issue:
- Develop reporting standards by combining multiple, related standards into broader groups, which are then labeled accordingly. These labels are what appear on the report cards.
- The reporting standards should be “specific enough to communicate the knowledge and skills students are expected to acquire but not so detailed that they lose their utility when shared with parents” (Guskey & Bailey, 2010, p. 22). Also, without question, parents and students must be able to understand and make sense of what they are reading.
- For each subject with the exception of Language Arts, four to six reporting standards are recommended. For Language Arts, try for four to six reporting standards per subcategory. This range “helps clarify precisely enough what students are expected to learn and be able to do but does not overwhelm parents and students with unnecessary detail” (Guskey & Bailey, 2010, p. 42).
- Create a report card supplementary document that more thoroughly breaks down each reporting standard. This document can be grade-level specific, and it can also contain other pertinent report card related information.
- To avoid confusion amongst educators, parents, and students, strive for consistency by creating report cards that contain the same reporting standards across multiple grade levels. Meanwhile, the aforementioned supplementary document can change as necessary. Keep in mind that “The one exception to this general trend of using common reporting forms across grade levels is a standards-based report card for the kindergarten level” (Guskey & Bailey, 2010, p. 92).
Emphasis on Classroom Instruction: According the Guskey and Bailey (2010), “Success in improvement efforts based on standards will always hinge on what happens at the classroom level” (p. 19). In other words, a committee can spend countless hours locked in a room, slaving away on the most research-based report cards known to mankind, but the initiative will not reach its fullest potential if teachers (and students and parents) are not effectively communicated with in regards to (1) the research behind the report cards and their creation, and (2) how the forms can be leveraged in order to maximize student potential. Much of this communication can be in the form of ongoing professional development, parent nights, and keeping the lines of communication open amongst all parties involved. In a previous post I discussed five changes that I would make to my assessing and grading procedures if I were to return to the classroom as a teacher. These determinations were made after reading Rick Wormeli’s Fair Isn’t Always Equal.
On social media, make sure to join the Facebook groups Standards Based Learning and Grading and Teachers Throwing Out Grades. For Twitter, Standards-Based Learning Chat (#sblchat) takes place every Wednesday at 9 pm, and Teachers Throwing Out Grades Chat (#ttog) happens every other Monday at 7 pm.
Guskey, Thomas R., and Jane M. Bailey. Developing Standards-Based Report Cards. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010.
O'Connor, Ken, and Ken O'Connor. How to Grade for Learning, K-12. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2009.
Wormeli, Rick. Fair Isn't Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2006.
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