Report cards come in different sizes and formats. Generally, though, there are two key elements of the report card structure. First, the report card employs a scale of descriptors, defined explicitly in terms of standardized criteria within a school district. Secondly, there is the narrative section. This is where you write specific comments about each student's performance. These comments clarify or enhance the standardized descriptors. Following are examples of four sets of report-card descriptors and tips on writing narratives.

Report Card Descriptors

Set 1

  • Well-Developed: Working above the level for the student's age/grade placement in a specific academic area.

  • Developing as Expected: Developing as expected in a given skill, concept, or behavioral area. This reflects progress that is appropriate for the age/grade placement.

  • Beginning to Develop: Demonstrates interest in and participates to a limited degree in a specific activity. With time and experience, the student's level of understanding and concept development will reach an appropriate level.

  • Not Yet Apparent: Has not shown any attempt to participate in a specific activity. This does not indicate failure, but rather reflects a different rate of development.

Set 2

  • Consistently: Very good, always the same top quality

  • Usually: Good, often, most of the time

  • Occasionally: Fair, but needs improvement, once in a while, now and then

  • Developing: Growth is being shown

  • Sometimes: Not often

  • Not Yet: Expectation has not been achieved

Set 3

  • CD — Consistently Demonstrating: The student is independently applying and integrating skills that have been taught. On a regular basis, he or she is showing continued understanding of the concept.

  • DV Developing: The student is in the process of learning and applying skills that have been taught. He or she is making steady growth toward understanding the concept.

  • NI Needs Improvement: The student is having difficulty in applying the skills that have been taught. He or she needs more practice to develop an understanding of the concept.

Set 4

  • Excellent: An excellent student demonstrates a thorough understanding of the subject concerned, processes the subject at a high level, and communicates the results of learning in a variety of clear, original, and thoughtful ways.

  • Proficient: A proficient student demonstrates a good understanding of the subject concerned, processes the subject matter well, and communicates the results of learning clearly and efficiently.

  • Capable: A capable student demonstrates an adequate understanding of the subject area, processes the subject matter appropriately, and is competent in communicating the results of learning.

  • Developing: A student at the developing stage is progressing toward competence in the subject area concerned.

Report Card Narratives

Among different school systems' report cards, there is no standard amount of space allotted for the teacher's narrative comments. Sometimes the space allowed is wide open; other times it is quite limited. However, no matter what the allotted space, take the time and effort to form cohesive paragraphs that build to a point or points. Here are some tips to help you get your message across in the most effective way possible.

  • Be specific and choose words carefully. Have student samples before you when reporting about difficulties the student is experiencing.

  • Be concise, effective, and cite specifics.

  • Avoid educational jargon or acronyms such as whole language, six traits, IEPs, paradigm, inclusion, immersion, SATs, and ACTs.

  • Keep in mind your audience.

  • Avoid repetition; the words good, fine, and excellent are acceptable if they are not overused but they usually are. Find synonyms to avoid repetition.

  • Increase the readability of the comment by:

    • Using sentences of varying length

    • Using a variety of sentence structures

    • Keeping the language simple

    • Using active verbs

Narrative Formats Used Most Frequently

  • The Positive and Negative Format. This kind of narrative works well when a student is having trouble with specific areas within a subject. It allows you to talk about the student's performance on the different topics studied during the period and to draw attention to the areas the student is not handling well. It tells the parents that the student's ability is not in question, but that time and practice will improve the student's understanding.

  • The Poor Grade Format. In this format, you omit areas in which the student has scored a good grade and let the mark speak for itself. The idea here is to get to the core, the area or areas in which the student has received poor grades. Spell out what exactly is being taught in class and what the student cannot seem to do. Provide information on how the student is being helped in school and how the parents can assist at home. Although the emphasis is on the difficulty the student is having, it is thoughtful to highlight at least a small area in which the student is experiencing some success.

  • Progressive Format. In this format you continue where you left off in a previous term and focus on tracking performance between marking periods. This structure works especially well in the case of the student who received a poor grade in a term. That's because there's a need to follow through on the problem areas by directly addressing those particular work and academic behaviors.

While all of these formats are current and acceptable, none is exclusive. You can structure informative and sensitive comments in a countless variety of ways. You may simply prefer one format over another, or may even change formats as you go along. In the end, you will likely find that you tend to vary the format for each student, and that what you choose is what is most effective for that particular situation.


This article was adapted from Just the Right Words: 201 Report Card Comments by Mona Melwani (© 2003, Scholastic).