Report Card Redesign – What Should Be Reported?

Brookhart_s120x148Last week, GOOD magazine announced the winner of its “Redesign the Report Card” contest. The winning entry is a design by Polly d’Avignon, and you can see it here.

As a visual design effort, it’s a success. It’s gorgeous. It’s interactive, designed to be posted on a website and support parent and teacher dialog. The example design is a high school report card. Each subject has its own tab and includes six-week grading period averages, a pie chart displaying the elements that went into the average, and a day-by-day log of graded work displayed as bars with roll-over explanations.

Unfortunately, what has been designed into this lovely display is the traditional report card, with single grades for each subject that mix measures of a student’s current status on intended standards with measures of practice (like homework) and participation. None of the current best thinking about effective grading practices summarized in the November issue of Educational Leadership has been followed.

As my own article (“Starting the Conversation About Grading“) in this issue suggests, the purpose of a report card must be very clear. The purpose of this report card seems to be home/school communication, mostly but not entirely about parents keeping track of a students’ running grade average. Other communication purposes (like announcements about school activities) are served on the same form. I question the purpose of keeping track of a grade average—much better, I think, to keep track of what knowledge and skills students are learning in a way that makes it possible to substitute new information as students learn.

If I read my colleagues correctly, every author in the November EL would take exception to several of the practices encoded into this design. For example, figuring homework and class participation into a final grade confuses what Guskey calls product and process criteria, and the result would be an uninterpretable composite that, as Fisher, Frey, and Pumpian and Vatterott would point out, penalizes students for the ways in which they practice as they are learning. And keeping a running average means that as the reporting period progresses, students have less and less control over their final grade, depressing motivation for new learning or improvement.

I was so disappointed! Here is all this wonderful work by a talented designer, and yet all it does is pretty up and perpetuate aspects of traditional grading that desperately need changing. It would have been nice if Ms. d’Avignon’s design talents had been applied to a more educationally defensible report card.

Post submitted by Susan M. Brookhart, an independent education consultant based in Helena, Mont., and a senior research associate in the Center for Advancing the Study of Teaching and Learning at Duquesne University. Her books include How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills in Your Classroom (ASCD, 2010) and Grading and Learning: Practices That Support Student Achievement (Solution Tree, 2011).


  1. Exactly right! This is why I’m using some of Susan Brookhart’s scholarship, as well as Fisher and Frey, in assessment training that I do in my region.

  2. I agree that none of the entries represent best practices in grading, but I don’t believe the blame solely belongs with the designers who entered the contest.
    Report cards have changed very little in the last 100 years. We, as educators, have had ample time to step up to the plate and incorporate good design into our communications—create reports that are engaging and effective. And so far, we are not doing that.
    In order to reinvent report cards, as well as other reports based on classroom/school data, we need to develop our design skills and insist that the companies which offer reporting tools do the same.
    I am one of the “colleagues” included with the November EL issue. I hope you’ll join me on my blog for further discussion about both grading, reporting, and design, or visit my new blog devoted to data visualization for the classroom: Excel for Educators.


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