Progress reports are an important way for schools to communicate students’ academic growth and associated learning behaviors. Regardless of the particular grading philosophy of a school, a framework for useful and effective progress reports needs to be clearly established by the school administration and communicated to teachers well before students enter the classroom. What should teachers be assessing and why? How will the results of assessments be reported and to whom? Answering these questions will clarify the learning/teaching process for teachers, students, parents, and other interested parties. From a student’s perspective, such clarity could be a tool that helps them to take control of and enhance their own learning.
Creating a student-centered classroom that allows learners more autonomy over what they study has been shown to be a great motivator for deeper and ongoing learning (McCombs, 2007). In this type of diversified learning environment, what might be an effective way to assess students’ progress?
Let us consider a framework that describes a purposeful instruction/learning/assessment cycle in four stages:
Stage 1: Co-Establishing Learning Objectives and Conditions:
The teacher and students co-establish learning objectives, provided that the curriculum requirements are in place. Learning objectives then answer the questions:
- What are the unit's learning objectives? (Curriculum requirements)
- What does success look like for me (student/s)? (Teacher expectations)
- How do I know when I am successful? (Student self-expectation)
It is crucial for the teacher and the student to mutually agree on those objectives. The role of the teacher then is to provide the means of learning (e.g., engaging activities, learning materials) and allow the conditions for learning to evolve through the unit. Co-establishing the learning objectives offers an opportunity for students to self-regulate their learning.
Stage 2: Formative Assessment:
It is only after the learning objectives and the learning conditions have been established that the teacher can provide continuous feedback (i.e., formative assessments) (Wiggins, 1998). Formative assessments should not be at only one point in time as the unit advances. Formative assessments continue throughout the instruction and assessment cycle, as these inform the teacher about their practices.
Stage 3: Summative Assessment and Reporting:
Due to time constraints during the learning period (e.g., semester, quarter), the teacher reports students’ progress to inform students and parents regarding mastery. This report is one place in time in the cycle regarding mastery of the learning objectives. This progress report can be in the form of a grade average, a letter grade, a summary, or a rubric report. Nevertheless, it has to be done organically and purposefully so that the report instills self-regulation even after the learning period is over (Guskey, 2014; Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Thus, in this manner, assessing and reporting students’ progress is not only a way to keep students accountable but also becomes a tool that provides an opportunity for students to learn how to self-regulate (Wiggins, 1998). Additionally, because self-regulation is learned through accountability, the progress report serves as a tool to inform other interested entities (e.g., administrators, colleges, universities) about students’ progress (Guskey, 2014, Guskey & Bailey, 2009).
For many students, parents, and even teachers, the complex process of learning being defined by a single letter grade or an average of test scores becomes problematic in the student-centered classroom. This reductive summary of a student’s progress leaves out the process of learning and does not acknowledge the growth in significant areas as part of the grade. For a more useful and meaningful assessment, Guskey (2014) suggests multiple grades based on criteria grouped into three broad categories— product (e.g., reports, projects, culminating exams), process (e.g., learning behaviors, formative assessments), and progress (e.g., improvement over time). Progress reporting divided into these three categories provides a more distinctive and complete picture of the mastery and achievement of students’ learning objectives.
Stage 4: Reflective Teaching and Learning Stage:
In this stage, the teacher and students reflect on the objectives achieved and growth realized. Summative and formative assessments should be used to inform students and effectively inform the instructor about any adjustment in instructional strategies to assist students in their journey toward mastery (Curtin, 2009; Popham, 2017; Guskey & Bailey, 2009). Assessment needs to be of varied formats as well as strategies to measure achievement. This progress status can be provided by but is not limited to traditional quizzes and tests, poster evaluation, presentations, labs, community service, student-centered goal-achievement, and self-assessment. Also, progress should be self-reported by the student through student-led conferences or a portfolio for self-evaluation (Guskey & Bailey, 2001). Figure 1 shows an illustrative diagram of the cycle presented in this article.
Figure 1. The assessment and progress reporting cycle in the student-centered classroom. (Photo source: Dr. Yujiro Fujiwara)
It is important for educational leaders to explain to their community the purpose of assessment reporting as students, teachers, and parents navigate each school's approach to reporting progress. In this way, the teacher can serve as an advocate and coach, guiding students to achieve their full potential. Students can see the pathway to reaching their goals more clearly. Collaboration among teachers, students, and parents becomes a more meaningful endeavor as students’ progress becomes a purposeful tool of communication and accountability.
Curtin, M. J. (2009). The new teacher's guide to a better assessment. Educational Leadership, 67(3).
Guskey, T. R. (2014). On your mark: Challenging the conventions of grading and reporting. Solution Tree Press.
Guskey, T. R., & Bailey, J. M. (2001). Developing grading and reporting systems for student learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Guskey, T. R., & Bailey, J. M. (2009). Developing standards-based report cards. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Guskey, T. R., & Link, L. J. (2022). Feedback for teachers: What evidence do teachers find most useful? Journal of Scholarship & Practice, 4(4), 9–20. http://dx.org.ezproxy.library.und.edu/10.1080/0969594X.2018.1555515
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.
Link, L. J., & Guskey, T. R. (2022). Is Standards-Based Grading Effective? Theory Into Practice, (just accepted). DOI: 10.1080/00405841.2022.2107338.
McCombs, B. L. (2007). Balancing accountability demands with research-validated, learner-centered teaching and learning practices. In C. E. Sleeter (Ed.), Educating for democracy and equity in an era of accountability (pp. 41-60). New York: Teachers College Press.
Popham, J. W. (2017). Classroom assessment: What teachers need to know (8th ed.). Boston, MA, Pearsons.
Wiggins, G. (1998). Educative assessment. Designing assessments to inform and improve student performance. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco.
Originally published: ET Journal
Dr. Yujiro Fujiwara is the head of applied tech/STEM and high school math lead at Concordia International School Shanghai.