12 Ways to Make Writing Student Report Cards Easier

5 mins read
Travis Edwards

It’s that time of year where we hear an audible groan from teachers and coffee supplies at supermarkets become thin on the shelves. The end of year report card writing marathon has begun.

If you are a new teacher writing your first report cards, or an experienced teacher who’s finding yourself with even less time than usual this year, we’ve put together a few ideas to help make writing report cards a little easier.

Know your school’s system

Many schools have their own academic reporting system that includes requirements for information, language, grading and comments.

If you are new to a school, ensure you know the system well before starting, for example, find out what grading scale they use, what information needs to be collected, and if they have a comment bank. It’s also important to be clear whether you are marking against a student’s own progress or against classmates, and grading against effort or ability, or both.

Keep your marking up to date

Writing report cards is much quicker if you’re up to date with marking individual assessments. Wherever possible, mark assessments as soon as they are handed in and keep a record of all assessment marks for each student so it’s easy to refer them to at the end of the year. ClickView’s analytics on interactive videos, keeps a timely record of results for you.

Set a defined timeframe, and then take a break. Thinking about the huge task ahead of you and working non-stop into the night leads to feelings of overwhelm and stress. Set aside short blocks of time in which write a set number of report cards – say, two hours – and then take a 30-minute break that includes a relaxing reward like a walk, swim or television. By breaking your work into blocks and taking regular breaks you’ll feel more motivated and productive.

Start with grades

Starting with overall grades gives you a better idea of what you need to comment on – whether that’s impressive progress or areas for improvement. Not every learning area needs a comment, so by allocating grades first you’ll quickly see which areas need comments, and which don’t.

Make comments constructive

If a student is under-performing in a particular area, try to offer constructive feedback that helps parents and students plan for improvement. A simple way to do this is to create a template sentence that can be personalised for each student. For example: “[Name] struggles to [area of difficulty]. They may benefit from revising/working on [specific tasks related to that skill or knowledge area] to support their learning next year.”

The same idea can be applied to positive comments to encourage further growth. For example: “[Name] has a great understanding/grasp/ability to [area of achievement]. Their next step is to extend on this by [specific tasks related to that skill or knowledge area] to support their growth in the subject next year.”

Use a report card comments bank or template

It’s much quicker and easier to personalise a comment to suit each student than create comments from scratch.
Your school may already have a comments bank that they ask teachers to use for consistency’s sake. If not, a quick look online will uncover a multitude of comment templates. Alternatively, you can create your own in a Word or Excel document using comments from the previous year’s report, ideas you find online, and any of your own comments that you regularly use.

Break out your thesaurus

Carefully choosing your words and using a variety of terms to describe understanding, progress, effort and behaviour can make your report easier to read, and much more interesting to write.

Some schools may have a list of approved words, however, if this isn’t the case, use a thesaurus (we love wordhippo.com to find the most concise, accurate way to describe a student’s work. It’s worth recording your favourites in your comments bank or templates folder.

Some suggested words to get you started:

Words to describe understanding:

  • Comprehensive
  • Detailed
  • Thorough
  • Reasonable
  • Limited
  • Sufficient
  • Basic

Words to describe level of progress:

  • Substantial
  • Considerable
  • Impressive
  • Steady
  • Marginal
  • Slow
  • Satisfactory

Words to describe effort:

  • Conscientious
  • Enthusiastic
  • Admirable
  • Consistent
  • Fair
  • Limited
  • Sporadic

Words to describe attitude or behaviour:

  • Hard-working
  • Eager
  • Attentive
  • Considerate
  • Thoughtful
  • Distracted
  • Unmotivated

Use curriculum and standards documents to explain what was expected and achieved/not achieved

You don’t have time to reinvent the wheel when explaining curriculum areas and learning standards in your comments – so why not use what’s already written?

Go through your curriculum and learning standards documents and use the terms already available regarding what students need to learn and what they are expected to be able to do. Just ensure that there’s no teaching jargon or acronyms in there that parents might not be familiar with.

Think about what parents want to know

This tip makes it much easier to frame your comments. Parents want to know what their child has achieved, what their level of skill or ability is, and what progress they are making. They want simple language that reassures them that their child is doing well or suggestions about what they can do to help if the child is struggling.

Remember you are writing to parents about their child – so be sensitive when you write and offer praise for every child.

Collect anecdotal examples throughout the year to illustrate comments

Generic comments like ‘doing well’ or ‘needs improvement’ aren’t particularly helpful to parents and students. Furthermore, they aren’t helpful when you or other teachers are planning lessons for the following year.

Anecdotal examples give parents and students a concrete understanding of how a student is using their strengths or where they need to improve for example, instead of writing “Annie shows great promise in art”, try “Annie painted a landscape using an exceptional understanding of light and shade.”

Make a habit of keeping notes throughout the year either in a notebook with a page per student or by carrying around a pad of sticky notes which you can transfer into a folder later.

Writing report cards is, undeniably, a big job. However, with some forward planning, and clever use of templates, language and time management, you can turn the task into an efficient way to reflect on the year and your student’s progress.

Additional Research

Hollingsworth, H., Heard, J., & Weldon, P. R. (2019). Communicating Student Learning Progress: A Review of Student Reporting in Australia. Findings in Brief. Australian Council for Educational Research. https://research.acer.edu.au/ar_misc/35

One of the findings from the Communicating Student Learning Progress Report by ACER in 2019, was that schools should adopt continuous reporting and that the use of technology and would continue to be a good way to do this.

  • Whilst continuous reporting may not be the direction your school is going, keeping your data digital, will mean that you have access to it to send and report on when you need it. You can use an LMS or use the data from your ClickView analytics dashboard.