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Do Report Cards Matter in 2020?


Reports cards are usually the ultimate say on the topic of student academic performance. But, the coronavirus pandemic shut schools down last March. Educators froze grades when schools closed. Students eventually transitioned to online learning, but school work submitted after March did not affect final report card marks for the year.

A New Student Experience

When students went back to school this fall after six months away, they returned to a completely different school experience. In elementary school,  teachers arranged classrooms to promote social distancing. In high school, teens returned to the new quadmester system and online learning requirements.  

With a considerable gap missing from reporting requirements and so much change to adapt to in terms of learning expectations, how will report cards capture how well students are progressing academically this year?  

Report Card Limitations

  • Standardization. Report cards are often standardized: teachers select from a set of pre-selected comments or choose from a range of available options. However, we all know that these options are often limited and cannot fully capture the full range of student experience. It’s important to remember that report cards only capture a snapshot of a student at a moment in time.
  • Different Paces. Students progress at different paces. Report cards only record a child’s ability to reach a performance benchmark in a specific timeframe. Just because your child doesn’t understand how to multiply fractions by the time the unit is over does not mean that they never will, only that they didn’t on the particular schedule of the school curriculum.  
  • Influencing factors. There are many factors at play in capturing a student’s achievement. Different students learn better at different times of the day or learn subjects at different rates. Some students are good at taking tests and writing essays, and others are not. 

Why Report Cards Are Important This Year And Every Year

Report cards’ primary purpose is to measure and track a student’s academic progress for the school year. But, language and reporting techniques can make report cards confusing and stressful for both parents and students.

  • Provide Feedback Report cards are to be the most important tool for tracking student progress. Report cards often serve as an opportunity for parents to check-in with teachers during parent-teacher interviews. But, report cards shouldn’t be the only time parents check-in on their children’s learning journey.
  • Insights into Learning For many parents, the most crucial part of the report card is the teacher’s comments. Comments are the focus because a single letter mark or grade cannot capture a student’s learning journey. Based on observations in-class and online, teachers’ comments are, for many parents, the most valuable part of the report card.
  • Predictions of Progress Whether it’s the first progress report or final report card, report card grades provide a clue as to how a student is handling the material and how well they are prepared for the next term’s challenges or the next grade. Be prepared is especially important in high school; research shows that teens are more concerned about marks as they prepare for college and university and rely on high grades for the university application process.

This year and every year, it’s essential to have a report card chat together as a family. This past year has not been like any other; keep in mind that learning results may look a little different this year as students adapt to the various education circumstances.

What Should Parents Focus On?

The one thing that parents should focus on this year in terms of their children’s learning success is how much effort students put forth. Adapting well to changes such as online learning, showing enthusiasm about different subjects, and learning about topics not covered in school, real signs of your child’s school progression are evident in many factors not captured by report cards.  Discipline, focus, and work ethic will continue to carry students forward in their education, even if report card grades are low.

This year and every year, the real mark of learning is how much effort students put into their education. Focusing on the effort students put into learning—rather than the achievement of grades—will be the driver that helps keep students learning on track, no matter what 2020 throws at them.

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