Things I Know 178 of 365: Report cards should be better

Zachary has been a joy to work with this year. I will miss him next fall.

– Mary Cavitt, my kindergarten teacher

From kindergarten forward, the majority of schools get progressively worse at telling students and parents what’s being learned and how well students are learning it.

A few days ago, my mom stumbled upon a folder marked “ZAC – School” while searching for immunization records.

Not the least of the documents in the folder were both my first and my last report cards as a K-12 student.

I found my final high school report card first.

When I saw it, my eyes flashed to class rank, then GPA, then a quick scan to remind me of my final courses and teachers.

A few pieces of paper later, 24 years after it was issued, I found my kindergarten report card.

It required a little more time for consumption. Nowhere did it tell me where I ranked among the other 5 and 6 year olds. I had no idea as to my kindergarten GPA either.

The only real use for the report card was a detailed accounting of my progression as a student throughout the year.

Groan.

I could remember every piece of information from that first year of K-12. I would be hard-pressed to recount half of 1% of anything covered in my senior macroeconomics class. I’d honestly forgotten I’d taken macroeconomics until I saw the report card.

In the comments section for each quarter, Mrs. Cavitt wrote a short message to my mom alerting her to my progress and letting her know I was being seen by my teacher.

In the “Comment Explanation” section of my senior report card – nothing.

As a kindergartener, I had little use for my report card. It was a document for the adults in my life to examine and use as a starting place for conversation.

In my later years, the report card held much value. It was a quarterly mile marker of my progress toward college and beyond. Still a communication between the adults in my life, it raised more questions than answers. I have no idea how I got that B in my first quarter of English IV, nor do I know what improved in the second quarter that led to an A.

I’m certain my parents asked questions on these very topics. I’m sure I stumbled through my answers and took stabs at the multitude of possible reasons for my grades.

I try to imagine, though, what would have transpired were I not as successful as a student.

If I’d been lost in the tall grass of high school with Cs, Ds and the occasional F, this report card would have served no purpose other than to reinforce my failures and dumbfound my parents.

If I’d not had such dedicated parents, the conversations would have stopped there and the frustrations would have continued to mount.

The modern middle and high school report card is an arcane relic made supremely ironic in light of the millions of dollars spent nationally in the name of gathering data.

I’m certainly aware of the systemic impediments in place, but improving communications with students and parents on individual learning need not include standardized tests and computer-generated reports.

At the end of my kindergarten year, in math, I could name the four basic shapes, count to 43, add, subtract, print my numerals and much more.

At the end of my senior year of high school, in math, I got a B.

Which measure focused on the learning?

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