Frameworks For Communicating About Student Learning

A number of changes have occurred over the past few years in regard to the process for reporting student learning, such as

  • introduction of electronic reporting systems;
  • a move by some jurisdictions to outcomes based reporting;
  • increased awareness and implementation of assessment for learning practices;
  • implementation of new programs of study; and
  • heightened interest by the public in regard to assessment issues.


Two reporting frameworks are in use throughout schools and jurisdictions in Alberta. An outcomes-based report card lists detailed statements that typically represent clusters of outcomes in each subject, with student performance reported according to each statement. In a holistic reporting framework, student performance is reported globally in each subject. Both reporting frameworks typically provide specific details about student performance through detailed teacher comments.

Choosing a Framework

There is a diversity of opinion as to which approach is the most effective way to report to parents. Factors such as the manner in which assessments are designed; the way evidence is collected, stored and recorded; and the amount of information parents want/need will impact the decision as to which reporting format is selected.

Selecting the Outcomes that Will Be Included in Outcomes-Based Reporting

Determining the clustering of outcomes to be used in the reporting process should be a collaborative process that involves an in-depth examination of the curriculum. Teachers need to be aware not only of the curriculum at their own grade level, but also what curriculum students have had in the previous year, and what the curriculum expectations are in the succeeding year. This will assist in the process of identifying high priority outcomes.

Supporting Teachers in Implementing a New Reporting System

The process of implementing a new reporting system requires a great deal of time and effort. Different jurisdictions have found a variety of ways to provide support for the individuals who are most involved in the process. A key factor that emerges is the need for collaborative time for teachers to work together.

Making Decisions about Student Performance Categories

Regardless of the decision to use outcomes based or holistic reporting, decisions must also be made as to how student performance will be reported. The Guide to Education defines performance levels in terms of letter grades and percentages. Jurisdictions need to decide if this is the scale they will adopt for their reporting practices, or if they will define their own levels.

Possible options for reporting student performance include letter grades, descriptors, percentages, or ‘comments only’. These decisions may well take into account the age and grade level of students.

Deriving Input from Parents, Students, and Educators

A report card is only one way that teachers communicate with parents and students. As such, the report card does not need to duplicate information that is shared in other ways.

Since parents are one of the primary audiences for report cards, it is critical that they have a voice in what will be included in the document. This input can be obtained in a number of ways:

  • survey prior to report card redesign
  • focus groups
  • survey after implementation

Once feedback has been obtained, there needs to be a balance between willingness to make changes based on feedback received and research based practices. Getting input from parents may involve compromises as not all parents will agree about what information or how much information is needed.

Students are also a primary audience for report cards. Finding out from students what they think is important to communicate is also a critical step. Even more important, it is crucial that students understand what the report card is saying.

Educators also need to have a voice in any initiative to implement a new reporting system. Teachers, as front line staff, have in-depth understanding of what needs to be reported to parents and students, and what needs to be in place to support enhanced student achievement.

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