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Make Way for the New Report Cards


As districts revise curriculum and try to better measure how much of that curriculum students master and how well, new versions of report cards are inevitable. Education professor Dr. Thomas R. Guskey talks about some trends. Included: Information on the new generation of report cards.

As curriculums are changing, so are report cards, and Dr. Thomas R. Guskey works with numerous educators in revamping their grading systems and report cards. A professor of educational policy studies and evaluation at the University of Kentucky, Guskey is well known for his work in education reform, assessment, grading practices, and mastery learning.

Dr. Thomas R. Guskey

He also is a former administrator in the Chicago Public Schools, and was the first director of the Center for the Improvement of Teaching and Learning, a national educational research center.

Guskey recently talked with Education World about issues and trends in revising report cards.

Education World: What consultation services do you offer to schools or districts that are considering changing their report cards?

Dr. Thomas R. Guskey: I work with many school districts and education agencies on an ongoing basis to help teachers and school leaders become more aware of the knowledge base regarding grading and reporting, to consider more deeply the purposes they want to serve with their grading and reporting methods, and then to develop grading and reporting systems that better serve those purposes.

EW: What type of professional development, if any, do you think teachers need in order to provide more in-depth assessments of students on more detailed report cards?

Guskey: A substantial knowledge base exists on better practice in both the areas of student assessment, and grading and reporting. Few teachers, however, are aware of that knowledge base. As a result, most do what was done to them, perpetuating some of the same, ineffective practices that have persisted in schools for years. High quality, focused, and structured professional development opportunities for all teachers will be necessary to address this critical issue.

EW: What sort of trends do you see as districts revise their report cards?

Guskey: Generally, more and more schools are revising their report cards to offer better and more detailed information to parents, typically in the form of a "standards-based" report. The challenges educators face in those efforts are ensuring that parents can understand and make sense of the information provided; that it gives parents a clear picture of the adequacy of their child's learning progress; and that it gives parents prescriptive information if learning problems or difficulties are identified. To date, most of those changes have occurred at the elementary level, probably because there is less curriculum differentiation at that level. Once students enter middle school, they begin to pursue different curriculum tracks, which complicates the reporting process.

EW: What skills and/or assessments do newer versions of report cards focus on?

Guskey: The better examples are basing reports on student learning criteria (criterion-referenced), rather than simply reporting a child's relative standing among classmates (norm-referenced). Although most parents are accustomed to the latter, reporting relative standing among classmates tells nothing about what the child has learned or is able to do. All students in the class might have learned very little, for example, but some simply learned a little less than others.

Thoughtful educators also are separating specific learning or achievement criteria (products) from process criteria (homework, punctuality of assignments, effort, etc.) and from progress criteria (what students have gained or how far they have come).

EW: What is prompting districts to revamp their report cards? Do you think most report cards need an overhaul?

Guskey: Most districts are initiating change because of recognition of the mismatch between what they are striving to accomplish academically (i.e., improving student learning based on clearly articulated learning goals) and what information they offer to parents regarding students' achievements in school. Plus, as parents become more involved in their children's education, they are requesting more and better information about the teacher's expectations and about how they can help.

This e-interview with Dr. Thomas R. Guskey is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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