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Changing What Report Cards Measure

Report cards have provided an at-a-glance measure for students’ academic success for years. Students complete homework, classwork, projects, and tests. Then these results are averaged for report card grades.

Recently public schools are expected to follow the same at-a-glance measure; a school report card. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requires all states publish a report card for every public school in the state. Teachers and administrators develop curriculum guides, differentiate instruction, and students take standardized tests. Then these test results are averaged for a school report card grade. For students and schools, traditional reports cards are highly ineffective. Traditional report cards do not communicate how well students are being served by public schools.

What has seemingly “worked” for student report cards for years does not “work” for schools. 1. We must measure how students are being served and this is not supported by standardized test scores and traditional measures. 2. Report cards must be engaging. To best meet the needs of students and the community, we must have two-way, productive conversations with all stakeholders. 3. Expectations must be clear.

Research from the Education Commission of the States (ECS) recently asked parents from across the country to review a school report card from all fifty states and rate them. The parents represented diverse populations including their educational attainment, ethnicity, income levels, and geography. The ECS found that families wanted a user-friendly, easy to navigate, and informative report card. Of the fifty state school report cards, only one-third were ranked highly.

School report cards must shift from inputs and outcomes to how well children are being served. For a public school to be most effective, all stakeholders must understand the state’s goals, what individual schools are doing, areas of disparity, and how they plan to improve.

As a former English teacher and communications director, I propose we use terms that clearly describe our intentions. As a former family engagement coordinator, I propose we quit describing what we do in a classroom with one word or one grade. Yes, it’s quick and easy to remember. However, the art of educating students is very intentional, purposeful, and meaningful. When we “grade” a school with A-F, what does “A-F” mean? When we tell parents their child’s school is a B-rated school, how do they internalize that? The real question for a successful public education system should be, are students engaged in their learning experiences and are they prepared for the college and career?

The greatest economic development opportunity in the world is America’s Public Education System. We must have transparent discussions resulting in a clear understanding of public education’s strengths and weaknesses. These discussions begin with a meaningful school report card. Please take a minute to vote for your favorite components of a school report card at

Design, transparency, and clear expectations are essential components of a progressing public education system.

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