Road Trips and Report Cards

Jennifer K. Whitmer, Director of Assessment

Going on a family trip is an undertaking only for the valiant and courageous. Traveling with our children involves planning, persistence, and patience. The obligatory questions are: “Where are we going?”, “How are we getting there?”, and (everyone’s favorite) “Are we there yet?”.

Education is a family trip that requires no less bravery. Everyone’s in the car, but the student is driving. Teachers are planning the direction. Report cards are the rest stops - a time to reflect, assess our progress, and refocus on where we’re headed.

The communication about student progress is vital in meeting educational goals. For the students, teachers, and parents, report cards should answer questions such as: Am I still on target?  Do I need more help to reach the target?  Have I mastered the target and need a father goal?

To use educational terms, report cards convey “student achievement” or give specific information regarding “student progress toward a standard”.  Effective communication involves four conditions: clear targets, accurate information, clear symbols, and tailored communication.  (Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2006, p. 293)

Clear Targets—Where are we going?

Choosing a destination requires more than identifying a city’s name.  What neighborhood?  What landmark?  Likewise, identifying a subject on a report card seems to be a clear target, but each discipline is so broad.  Therefore, we need specific targets.  (O'Connor, 2011, pp. 67-77)

At Central Christian School, we’ve used the last two years to analyze our curriculum and refine our targets. We call these targets “standards” which are determined with an end-of-year goal in mind.  Each target or standard is clarified within different grades as a “grade-level expectation”. These expectations, different for each grade, are where we want students to be at the end of the school year—the specific, final destination.  (Wormeli, Introduction: Formative vs. Summative Assessments, 2010)

Accurate Information—Is this the right information?

Have you ever used Google maps only to face a roadblock because of inaccurate information?  Our students’ report cards must be based on accurate assessment tools including information that is pertinent to the subject. Tests that don’t gather information about what was actually taught are misleading.

Our school is committed to using only appropriate assessments when measuring student progress – tests that include only the information about specific standards. The more information included in a given grade, such as attendance, the cloudier the results about student progress. While attendance is critical for learning to occur, including it in the feedback about achieved standards only gives a murky picture of progress toward true learning.   (O'Connor, 2011, pp. 16-23, 47-51) (Wormeli, Late Work, 2010)

Businesses leaders are now seeing a generation who is apathetic about meeting goals and believes showing up to work is simply enough.  In school they, “got credit” for attendance in their grades, so they’re confused why that doesn’t “count” now (Espinoza, Ukleja, and Rusch, 2010, pp. 9, 34-36).  Moving forward, our grades will only include data from quality assessments of student work measured against meeting specific learning standards.

Clear Symbols—What does that sign mean?

When teachers assign grades, they use symbols—numbers, letter combinations, graphics—to communicate a message. If the symbol is not clearly defined, the communication has failed.  I personally once received the grade “aa-b”. What is that?! And what does it mean? Confusion abounds when we say a “Satisfactory,” “B student,” “doing well,” or even “82%”.  We’ve now developed a common vocabulary, so teachers and parents understand what each symbol represents.  Partnering together, we can gauge where students are on their journeys toward meeting standards.   (Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2006, p. 294) (O'Connor, 2011, pp. 67-72)

I’ve listed the symbols and descriptions below for CCS standards, as well life skills that support learning. We believe these symbols are developmentally appropriate and allow elementary students to actively be involved in gauging their own progress. They are also more in line with what they will face as adults in the workplace.

Are we there yet? Almost!

Tailored Communication—What do I need to know?

CCS teachers can clearly explain to you how and why we’ve arrived at a grade, but we also realize some of it is simply too much information.  (Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2006, p. 308)  You need to know your child’s reading level: seeing they are not on grade level isn’t enough, but the four-page Developmental Reading Assessment report is too much. Our goal in report card communication is to convey student progress in meeting grade-level expectations compared to what standards are actually being taught.

Remember our road trip? Report cards are the rest stop, an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come, look where we’re going, and adjust the plan to get there. Thank you for joining us on this trip!  Your partnership in standards-based grading will reap many blessings for your child’s learning.

Load up the CCS van—here we go!

3K through 6th Content Standards Grading Scale


Extending: student work demonstrates understanding beyond grade-level and self-initiates learning


Secure: student work consistently demonstrates grade-level understanding and independence


Progressing: student work consistently demonstrates progress in grade-level understanding,but is not yet independent


Emerging: student work demonstrates preliminary grade-level understanding and requires teacher assistance


Not Evaluated at this Time

Grades 3K-6th Life Skills
(Work Habits, Effort, Social Development)








Clayton School District. (2008-2010). Elementary Report Card. St. Louis: Clayton School District.
Espinoza, C., Ukleja, M., & Rusch, C. (2010). Managing the Mellennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Mangaging Today's Workforce. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Fairfax County Public Schools. (2010). Report Card. Falls Church: Fairfax County Public Schools.
O'Connor, K. (2011). A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades. Boston: Pearson.
Parkway School District. (2006-2010). Report Card. St. Louis: Parkway School District.
Pattonville R-3 School District. (1998-2011). Report Card. St. Louis: Pattonville R-3 School District.
Rockwood School Distrcit. (2007-2010). Report Card. Eureka: Rockwood School District.
Stiggins, R., Arter, J., Chappuis, J., & Chappuis, S. (2006). Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing it Right—Using it Well. Boston: Pearson.
Wormeli, R. (2010, Nov 30). Introduction: Formative vs. Summative Assessments. Retrieved Aug 3, 2011, from Stenhouse Publishers You Tube:
Wormeli, R. (2010, Nov 16). Late Work. Retrieved Aug 3, 2011, from Stenhouse Publishers You Tube: