What is the Purpose of Report Cards?

by | Jan 24, 2022 | Parenting with Purpose, School

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What is the purpose of report cards? The report card is a multi-dimensional system of communicating to parents.

The purpose of a report card is to describe the level of academic achievement, life skills and social emotional growth that a student has shown over the course of a year. Grading is based on teachers’ evaluation of student performance. Report cards are represented by symbols like letters or numbers.

Purpose of Report Cards

A single report grade for each academic subject is the most common and accepted system in elementary, middle and secondary schools. They show what learning is being assessed and if the student is below grade level, at grade level or above grade level. 

Report cards use a multi-dimensional system of reporting which includes attitude, effort, school behavior and academics. It communicates to parents how a child is doing academically, socially and their life skills.

Schools use a conventional, subject-based report card or a report card that represents these intended learning outcomes as standards. A report card identifies the skills in which students are struggling, and provides a clear understanding of a student’s strengths.

Academic Achievement

  • Reading/Language Arts
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Writing

Life skills

  • Makes responsible, respectful, and safe choices
  • Collaboration: Works and interacts cooperatively with others
  • Communication: Expresses oneself effectively
  • Uses time effectively
  • Completes assigned work
  • Follows directions

Social Emotional Learning

  • Self-Management
  • Self-Awareness
  • Decision Making
  • Relationship Skills
  • Social Awareness

How Often:

Schools utilize different systems and timeframes of reporting. Criteria might include homework, assessments, state standards, participation, tests/quizzes, essays, projects and classwork. Teachers use criteria to summarize these things into a letter or numerical grade.

traditional reporting

With traditional grading students earn a letter or number. This represents a wide variety of skills and understandings in a particular subject.  Assignments are averaged for the entire semester.

The letter grade A or Exceeds is 3.0-4.0; B or Very Good is 2.50-2.99; C or Average is 2.0-2.49; D or Below average is 1.50-1.99 and an F or failing is 0.0-1.49.

Does Your Child Struggle with Reading?  Check Out Read Like a Champ!

standards based reporting

Some schools use standards-based reporting, which looks at grade level standards individually. This is separate from student behaviors.  

Teachers identify the standards taught for each marking period to inform instruction and assessment. Standards’ expectations change from one marking period to the next as students move toward the end-of-the-year grade level expectations. Therefore, learners are scored on their progress made toward mastery of those expectations for the year.

  • 4 =Exceeded
  • 3 =Meets Expectations
  • 2=Nearly Met
  • 1= Not Met

Grades should reflect achievement of intended learning outcomes. The primary audiences for the message conveyed in grades are students and their parents; grading policies should aim to give them useful, timely, actionable information. Teachers, administrators and other educators are secondary audiences.


Controversy Around Report Cards

In education, you see many different ways to report out learning.  Often you will see some controversy around how to best report this.  Perhaps in your school, it grades determined based on the average scores of work completed, quizzes and tests.  Unfortunately, when grading in this style, it is about compliance for a child and if they are getting all their work completed.  It doesn’t measure the growth of learning that a student has. 

For example here is a list of student scores.  

  • Assignment 1 – 9/100
  • Assignment 2 – 20/100
  • Quiz 1 – 35/100
  • Quiz 2 – 65/100
  • Test 1 – 75/100
  • Test 2 – 90/100

If you average these scores, the student would get a 49% which would be a failing grade.  But you can see that as the student is in class, they are continually growing and learning.  It may be seen as a punishment that they did not do well at the beginning of class and therefore they can not “dig themselves out of the hole” and will fail the class.

Instead, this could be a child that did not understand the content of the class early on, but is continually showing growth and progress.  There are many spaces in education that are trying to find new ways to report on this learning so that a child is not penalized for being proficient on every topic.  You may see differences in reporting such as rubrics or other scaled measures.

It is important that grades reflect a particular student’s individual achievement. Grades are about what students learn not what they earn.

Parent Questions About Report Cards

If you have questions about how your student is doing, make sure to connect with the teacher.  An older child also may be able to advocate for themselves with teachers to determine what they can do to show their learning and improve their grade.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s teacher to learn more.  You can ask questions at the beginning f school year or semester to learn how grades will be calculated, and parent teacher conferences are a good way to continuously hear about how your child is learning in school.

Get a list of questions to ask at parent teacher conferences here!

Are Colleges Moving Away from GPA?

More often, you are hearing that a student’s Grade Point Average (or GPA) along with a high ACT or SAT score are no longer helping a child to stand out.  Instead, colleges are putting more emphasis on how well rounded your child is.  

This can be shown in the activities your child is involved in which includes, sports, music, clubs, etc.  Colleges are also interested in if your child has participated in any service projects or volunteer opportunities.  Children are now creating a resume of sorts to show all of their accomplishments in both school and in other areas. 

This shows the importance of measuring other skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity, responsibility, and many more.   One skill you can teach a child at any age is to have a growth mindset or to learn from their mistakes.  


Report cards can serve many purposes, but first and foremost should communicate with the child and family as to the growth and learning of the child.  If you feel you don’t understand the report card, always make sure to connect with your child’s teacher or school. Learning is more than just the “grade” that your child gets, so look for other ways to seek information on other things your child may be learning in school.


By Dr. Kim Grengs, Parent Coach

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