How Might We Create Learner-Centered Report Cards?

Devin Vodicka

How might we create learner-centered report cards? Report cards are one of the practices that has been so embedded in our industrial-era, factory-model of schools that we seldom stop to ask why we do them. Through the course of my experience as a school leader, it has become clear that stepping back to ask who they are for reveals a host of potentially different needs that we try to address through this process. Some feel that the primary audience is the family, others think about how report cards are used for placement in future classes or to determine eligibility into institutions of higher education.

Unfortunately, the student is seldom seen as the primary beneficiary of the report card process. Even when there are conversations about how report cards help the student, they often revolve around sentiments about how report cards can be used to motivate students by holding them accountable. 

Based on my experience leading and being involved in a number of efforts to revise report cards, I’d like to offer the following shortcuts to help those who are also engaged in similar initiatives. If we did reconsider the purpose of a report card to holistically focus on the learner and their learning, several changes would likely follow:

  • Feedback would need to be timely to inform meaningful changes. This would require us to shift to more frequent reporting. 
  • Feedback would need to be specific enough to inform next steps. This would require multiple forms of feedback, including quantitative and qualitative reporting. 
  • Feedback would need to be specific to each learner to illustrate growth over time, ideally referencing the individual goals of the student. This is known as self-referenced feedback. 
  • Feedback would need to reference mastery of learning objectives, standards, or competencies. This is known as criterion-referenced feedback. Competency-based assessment and mastery learning models are ideal approaches. 
  • Feedback would need to provide some comparison to peers. This is known as norm-referenced feedback. 

It is possible to combine these elements to achieve multiple aims. For example, student goals can be connected to learning competencies to demonstrate self-referenced growth as well as criterion-referenced feedback. Evidence of mastery can include self-reflection, peer feedback, and educator observations in both qualitative and quantitative formats. For these types of systems, the quantitative feedback is typically in the form of a performance-based rubric.

For learner-centered educators, we often struggle with the norm-referenced, peer comparisons. This is likely because of unproductive experiences with high-stakes tests that rely extensively on these comparisons with the intent to sort, rank, and ultimately filter students for future opportunities. Notwithstanding these legitimate challenges, it is helpful to have some sense of how a student is performing relative to others in a similar age range.

In all cases, if we truly want to be learner-centered in our systems, we need to engage students and our community in the process of ideating, designing, and prototyping an approach that is contextually relevant and meaningful.  Engaging others in the process is essential.  By authentically working with one another to create better systems, we can also co-create a brighter future where learners are empowered to see, own, and drive their learning.

Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful:
Making Competency-Based Learning Visible For All Learners (eBook)
Measuring What Matters Most For All Learners (Webinar)
Reimagining Assessment
Modernizing Assessment

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