Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update




« BFTP: Lessons from the mouse | Main | What spaces do libraries need? »

Are report cards really necessary?

After attending a 3-day workshop on standards-based report cards, I have been left with a single over-riding question:

Why do we still have report cards at all?

There are certain kinds of summary documents I have simply stopped looking at. I no longer view my bank statements. I no longer look at my credit card statements. I don't view my investment account statements or retirement fund statements. Why look at summaries when you can track changes in real time online? I don't remember the last time I reconciled a checkbook. (But then again, I only use about 10 checks a year.)

So, as a parent, why do I need an "educational progress" statement when, if so used, I can track my child's progress in real-time using a parent portal to the teacher grade book. If a teacher is tracking not just behavior, assignment completion and scores on tests but reporting the meeting/mastery of specific standards, I don't need a summary. 

Summary documents, both statements and report cards, were created in a time of scarcity. Compiling, printing, and mailing information on a daily basis is cost-prohibitive. Providing digital access is not. 

Instead of improving report cards, lets spend the time making our grade books records more meaningful.


EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (8)

I hate grades, but that's a different argument. But what you're saying is true. Mailing these things or even sending home paper copies is a waste. Our district has finally gotten a "student portal" going for parents to keep up with their students. It should be no biggie to switch over to that as the sole outlet of information and, as you say, help provide access for those few families that don't have it at all.

October 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

I have three kids in college (yay! I'm finished with K-12). My daughter was constantly stressed out about grades & dependent on external evaluation. She would have been better served by a system that devalued grades. My middle son chose to underachieve. He had to make up 8 "Fs" by the time he finished high school. For awhile, I had his grades emailed to me, but it was too depressing because I could do nothing to turn him around (eventually, he did it himself with the help of an outstanding principal & a great band director), so I stopped tuning in. My third son had perfect grades, but he learned how to handle the stress. I never bothered checking his grades, although I checked in with him. One of my friends changed all of his grades (pre-online gradebook) so that his Fs became As. His parents were shocked to find out how poorly he really did. Do we still need report cards? Yes, because lots of people still don't have the internet. The snapshot provides a basis for conversations between parents and teachers. Communication is minimal, except for the report card, even in schools which emphasize communication. For many reasons, I didn't check my kids grades online, even when I could--once it was because I'd just get upset, but I couldn't do anything about it; the other was because my son was never going to receive a bad grade (he ended up as salutatorian, with straight As, but you know, the other guy also had straight As, but he took one additional AP class). I made a point of trying to teach ELL parents how to check their kids' grades online, which they could do at the public library even if they didn't own a computer, but the results were mixed.

October 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJude

Hi Ninja,

We've been using the student and parent portal (with app access as well!) for a couple years now. Again, I don't see the need for summary statements when there is real time info. I wonder if colleges will accept a standards-based accounting system instead of grades, GPA and all that nonsense?


Hi Jude,

I had something of a slacker son and while I didn't check grades, I did check things like work completion. By knowing this information, I set reasonable time limits for video games, TV watching etc. When the work issues cropped up, media consumption time went down. I am not sure how much it helped, but it at least made me feel responsible as a parent - and the real time access to the information allowed this for me.

I don't think there is much, if any, correlation between success in HS and success in life. Thank goodness (you would not have wanted to see MY report in HS!)

Thanks for the comment,


October 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Yeah, my college didn't have grades and it was great. No sweating over your GPAs, just whether or not you were doing the work or not. They have a pretty rigorous admissions, so it's considered an honors college. We got written summaries (with paragraphs and everything ;) from the professors on our work for each class with a Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory or Incomplete. That was it. No fuss, no muss. Oh, sure, sometimes professors would say things like "this is an S+!" or "this is only minimally satisfactory" but it didn't really matter. It was an S or a U (or an I) and that was it.

New College of Florida.


October 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

Sounds like my kind of place - where the assessment is actually helpful rather than punitive.


October 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I think the next thing to question is why do we have finals week? Why aren't students presenting and defending their work from the semester, providing evidence of what they learned and why the work in their portfolio is important to their growth. As a quasi assessment czar, those are the things that give me hope for moving beyond the scantron...

October 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Great post. I work in the educational technology industry (in product development) and as we work on ways to show grading information, feedback, reports (regardless of the chosen LMS), I have found myself wondering why we even bother with the traditional report cards.

Sure - there are families out there that may not have access to a computer (or internet) to login and find the information - but as the LMS evolves - most have some sort of on demand reporting capabilities (whether just to show grades, find students in trouble or on the cusp of failing, show real outcomes and how that student is meeting state-defined objectives, etc...).

Seems it would be cheaper to me to be able to print off a report on demand as needed, vs. having a scheduled time every year to send to every parent!

November 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Hi Ashley,

Nice to know the educational industry is thinking progressively in this area. It too often feels like education is being held back by product markets that known and reliable for companies.


November 5, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>