New DCPS report cards should be easier for parents to understand, but they may overwhelm parents with information while omitting suggestions that could be helpful.

Sample report card from DCPS.

This week,

DCPS is rolling out a new report card format based on feedback from parents and teachers.

There’s one version for middle and high school students, which explains the various kinds of GPA, records the community service hours the student needs, and alerts parents to any courses the student is failing.

The elementary school version has a cover page with an overall snapshot of the student’s progress, including attendance, marks for each subject, feedback related to classroom behavioral expectations, and comments from the teacher.  The next two pages relay more specific information regarding student progress within each subject area and standardized test scores. The final page has a list of suggested book titles for parents to read with their children based on reading level.

Report cards have grown

The four-page report card is a far cry from the single sheet of paper I brought home as a student in the 1990s. That was a bare-bones description of my academic progress, as described by letter grades.  There was a small section for information about my behavior with such categories as “works without disturbing others” (which I imagine was sometimes marked “needs improvement”), and a handwritten sentence or two from the teacher.

By 2006, when I began teaching 5th grade in DCPS, a teacher was expected to prepare an extensive document for each student based on the standards for each subject.  The wording of each component was highly academic.

A DCPS press release gives an example of the old report card language:  “By the end of the year, reads and comprehends literature and informational texts in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.”

As a newly minted teacher, I understood the meaning of educational buzzwords like “text complexity band” and “scaffolding,” but I doubt the same could be said of my students’ parents, or even some of my older colleagues.  I put in hours of work completing report cards, yet parents were still asking me how their children were doing in class.  Clearly, this method of parent-teacher communication left something to be desired.


new report card seeks to bridge this communication gap through several key changes.  One is that the language promises to be simpler. According to the DCPS press release, the “new” version of the language quoted above will be: “Reads and understands literature and informational texts on grade level.”

Too much information?

Parents will probably focus much of their attention on the cover page, which summarizes the highlights.  The second and third pages contain a lot of information that could be helpful to parents, but they’re also potentially overwhelming.  In the first-grade report card that DCPS has posted as an example, there are twenty standards listed for reading and language arts alone.

While I appreciate the thought behind the list of books on the final page, it seems impractical.  The same list is likely being given to students across the District, which means that it will be hard for parents to track down these specific titles at a library.

Also, in my experience, parents feel less comfortable helping their children with mathematics than reading. But the suggestions don’t include any math resources. In our technologically focused world, a list of websites or even apps that focus on reading and math might be more useful, at least for parents with access to computers.

Still, while there’s room for improvement, the new DCPS elementary report card is a step in the right direction.

Update: DCPS is inviting parents to comment on the new report cards here.

Tagged: dc, dcps, report cards

Lisa Runge was born in Illinois, but after 6+ years in DC, she considers herself a Washingtonian.  She made the circuit of DC schools as an elementary school teacher (public, parochial, charter, private) before settling into her current career of full-time mom of two and wife of one.  She lives in Eckington. She blogs at