Standards-Based Report Cards

Photo by   Pixabay   from   Pexels

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Standards-Based Report Cards

The first school quarter of 2019-20 is nearing an end in Missouri, and you know what that means – report card time! Growing up, most of us, if not all, are used to receiving one letter grade for each class. Since one letter grade does not tell the entire story, some schools (and districts) are taking a different approach. Instead of only reporting one overall grade, standards-based report cards report out on several standards or learning goals for every subject. In this week’s blog, PRiME gives an overview of standards-based report cards, how they differ from letter grades, and examples of Missouri districts using them. 

Standards-Based Report Cards

Standards describe learning goals for individual subject areas and grade levels. Each state sets overall standards for student learning, such as The Missouri Learning Standards, which are intended to inform classroom curriculum. Using standards that often closely, if not identically, align with state standards, standards-based report cards use multiple learning goals to describe students’ academic progress. In other words, they use multiple measures to describe what content students know and what skills they can do. 

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Instead of only one overall grade in each subject, students receive grades for each standard, with grades describing students’ progress toward proficiency or mastery. Some schools and districts use numerical values for their grades, others use phrases, and some use both (Table 1). A “proficient” score typically indicates that a student has met grade-level expectations.

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On top of receiving multiple grades per subject, academic grades on these report cards are intended to reflect students’ academic achievement alone. Separate “process” grades report on other factors like student attendance, homework completion, participation, and behavior. By separating academic and process standards, students and their families know which academic and behavioral areas need improvement. Letter grades are often a combination of the two and calculated differently depending on the teacher and subject, making feedback a little less clear.

In all, standards-based report cards aim to make grades more consistent, transparent, and actionable. 

  • Consistent: Standards-based report cards are usually uniformly adopted throughout a school or district, so students are evaluated on the same grade- and subject-level standards. Consistent academic standards can reduce grading variation, such as the different components that can go into letter grades for each teacher’s class.

  • Transparent: By separating academic and process grades, students and their families have a better understanding of what students will be evaluated on and which components go into each grade. Standards are usually written in student- and family-friendly phrases to facilitate this understanding. 

  • Actionable: By including multiple standards per subject and separating academic and process grades, students and their families have more specific information about where and how to improve.


In Missouri, PRiME found examples of all types of districts using standards-based report cards, from urban and rural districts to those of differing enrollment sizes (615 to 28,000+ students) and geographical locations (Figure 1). Similar to the rest of the country, it appears that Missouri districts most frequently use the report cards in elementary grades (see Park Hill and Republic School Districts for their 2019-20 report cards).

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Standards-based report cards are not limited to elementary grades, though. High schools that use them sometimes also report letter grades due to their widespread use outside of K-12 education. Letter grades and grade point averages are more regularly used in admissions decisions and determining athletic eligibility. However, college admissions counselors indicate that standards-based report cards may benefit students because they provide additional, specific information about students, their capabilities (academic standards), and work habits (process standards).


For all familiar with letter grades, it may take time to get used to different report cards with additional details and multiple grades per subject. However, standards-based report cards have the potential to provide more detailed information to students, their families, and even college admissions officers. By describing students' progress toward proficiency, the report cards focus on growth, which can generate more in-depth conversations about how students can improve and meet their academic goals.  

Evan RhinesmithComment