A Small Rant About Report Cards

The kids got some progress reports a few weeks ago – progress reports, which just indicate whether or not they are “progressing well,” no actual marks, which will instead appear on the report cards that arrive in March and June. They did fine, they were fine, I had my usual rant about the horror of report cards, yadda yadda yadda.

Today my youngest brought home this handy brochure from the board about how to interpret progress and report cards. I got really excited because I have been saying for years that the board needs to do this, because reading a report card is like reading an ancient text originally written in a foreign language, then translated using Google Translate into Latin, then translated a second time into English – you can recognise some of the words, but actually making cognitive sense is a bit of a leap.

And then of course, the disappointment when I read the brochure (a full 8 1/2 x 11 size, glossy, 18 pages) and found it covers a lot of stuff, but not the most annoying and bittermaking part, which is the incomprehensible gibberish that is the comments.


Not a word at all about how to interpret them, so I will say this here – after years, YEARS of trying to understand Ontario report cards, here is the key:

It’s all about the adverbs.

There will be, on your kids’ report card, sentences like this: “John sometimes adds two-digit numbers without using his fingers.” And that sounds great, doesn’t it? He sometimes does this hard thing! Maybe he’s even advanced, ahead of his class!

But no, the key word here is “sometimes.” Sometimes means, not all the time. “Often” is better. “Usually” is even better, and “Always” is your gold standard.

So everyone gets the same comment, but it’s the ADVERB that tells you how he is actually doing, relative to the class and the criteria the teacher is using.

You have to comb through every sentence to figure out a) what is the criteria being talked about here, and b) how my kid did at it. That’s IF you can figure it out at all – and there’s no information at all on how your kid could have done better, what they could have done differently, or what kind of things we should be working on at home. Should we drill him now in two digit adding? Should we do worksheets? Or is he doing just fine, just won’t be a research mathematician someday? Should we panic? Should we leave it in the hands of the school?


I understand that teacher’s hands are somewhat tied, and they have to choose canned comments like this (legal reasons? Maybe?). I also know that report cards are a HUGE amount of work, and the easier we can make them on our poor overworked teachers, the better.

But seriously, there has GOT to be a better way to make these things more readable and more legible. I guess many parents, confronted with a “C” in math, want to know why. But more than saying, “here is what we studied, and your kid only did it some of the time,” what I want to know is:

* how does my kid learn?
* what strategies in the classroom work better for him, than others?
* what subject areas excited him and made him want to learn, rather than others he found dull and a hard slog?
* what are some things we could do at home to help?

So rather than the canned comments, I’d like to read something like “John seems to do well with simple math but has problems with oral word problems. He works best in a quiet environment. He could use some review on two digit adding at home.”

Would that be so hard? I suppose this is what the parent-teacher interviews are for. But in that case, I’d almost rather have a blank report card – just the marks – and then have it all explained to me in person. Either that, or the OCDSB better publish a whole textbook, explaining how to translate comments into meaningful information.


8 thoughts on “A Small Rant About Report Cards

  1. mel

    I totally agree. I’d prefer to have one line that was actually written by the teacher about my child, rather than the paragraphs of MadLibs we end up with.

  2. Zhu

    I’d be ranting too… it doesn’t mean anything! I think France moved to this new kind of evaluation methods, and I hear my mother ranting when my young brother received such report cards. It was a change from numerical values associated to mine…

  3. Word. I even find that the parent-teacher conferences are largely boilerplate – we just had them a couple of weeks ago and I was disappointed at how little the teachers seemed to know about my kids as individuals.

    My kids are doing fine in school, and maybe that’s why they’re under the radar; the squeaky wheels are getting the grease, and my kids are not struggling, nor are they super-geniuses already ready for university, they are not acting out excessively – they’re the easy ones, who don’t need lots of attention. Not to mention, our classes are huge here – 28-30 kids per grade. So, like you, I understand the many reasons why this is harder than it first appears. But also like you, I feel underwhelmed by the quantity and quality of feedback about my kids’ education.

  4. More than once we have had “Zack always adds two-digit numbers …” However, although we know Zack (he lives down the street) he is not our son. And, of course, this can happen when lots of cut and pasting is occurring, but then, it makes the entire comment worse than useless because which part is wrong? Is it just the name, and does our son ALWAYS add the numbers correctly, or is the entire comment cut and pasted in incorrectly and does our son NEVER add the numbers, but we’ll never know because we got Zack’s comment? Waste of time for everyone – teacher included.

  5. spydergrrl

    THIS. ALL OF IT, EVERY YEAR. I’m so over the nonsensical reports. We don’t even bother reading the comments thoroughly. We skim them, check the values (satisfactory, etc) then wait to talk to the teacher at our meeting. It’s incredible that they have to dedicate so much time to fill out such useless forms – like teacher red tape.

  6. Annie

    From a teacher:
    Very good is 80 -100%
    Good is 70 – 79%
    Somewhat or sometimes is 60 – 69%
    Limited or rarely is 50 -59%
    Does not meet the standard means below 50%

    There is a bank of comments, some are great but have a name associated with them, some are old and out of date but cannot be deleted. The program used to create report cards has not been updated in over ten years and has more than a few flaws.

    1. I figured out this correlation over a few years of interpretation, but I think that the comments are absolutely useless if all they are is a spitting out of the mark in word format. Telling me that they did “good” matched up with a B or “level 3” is just another way to say the same thing. I want the comments to tell me WHY – what kind of qualities they have that lead to certain strengths, versus what kind of skills they need to work on to improve.

      I do have total sympathy for the teachers – I think they are quite limited in what they are able and allowed to do and the whole system needs an overhaul.

  7. Jay

    You have high expectations indeed if you want a report card that tells you how your child learns, what strategies work better than others, his likes and dislikes, and what you should do at home with him. Addressing the first two only would be monumentally complicated. How anyone learns is highly idiosyncratic and changes from situation to situation, from minute to minute. (The much ballyhooed learning styles is pseudo science pure and simple.) Ditto teaching strategies and add the complexity of a single teacher teaching multiple different students simultaneously. Everything in teaching seems straightforward, when it couldn’t be further from that. But because it seems straightforward expectations are raised unduly.

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