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5 tips for writing clear and constructive report card comments


report card commentsIt goes without saying, but what we write in report cards and how we write it impacts our students and their parents. Thoughtful, well-written report card comments offer praise and constructive criticism; they are clear, concise and solution-oriented. Vague and poorly-written report comments, however, may confuse and discourage parents and students.

To help you write report card comments that inspire, instruct and promote growth, we’d like to share 5 simple tips from Pam Robbins’s and Harvey Alvy’s book, The Principal’s Companion.  

5 tips for writing clear and constructive report card comments

    1. When you are describing a challenge or an area in which the student could improve, be specific and try to provide recommendations.

      “Ned is not doing well in speech class” is vague and doesn’t offer any feedback.

      On the other hand, “Ned’s speeches show potential: he is at ease in front of the class and always appears confident. However, his speeches need more organization. I’ve encouraged him to rehearse his speech by setting a timer and/or practicing in front of friends/family to help him organize and pace his presentation” is clear and offers suggestions for how Ned can improve.

        2. Keep in mind that a report card is a permanent document; it’s also a keepsake and memory record: Parents often keep these in old shoe boxes and pull them out years later.

        Considering this, report card comments should be meaningful. “Elise has a habit of forgetting to write her name on her homework” is probably not something that deserves to be a part of a student’s permanent record.

          3. Be discreet and avoid insensitive comments: Praising a student is one thing, but avoid comparing him/her with peers. “Joey continues to excel in composition; in fact, he is the best writer in the class” will certainly make the student and his/her parents feel good, but this is not a competition. Avoid praising one student and undermining 15 others at the same time. 

            4. Make sure the grade matches the comment: Praise next to “needs improvement” is confusing.

              5. If you want to make a general point, use the “general comments” section on the back of the report card instead of the designated subject area section. Mentioning that “Jessica is a pleasure to have in class” or “Steven is often late to school” should not be the primary point under the math section of the report card. Summary comments about the student’s overall performance belong in the additional comments section.

                We hope some of these tips help you in the forthcoming school year. If you are looking for more tips on how to write effective report card comments, we highly recommend Susan Shafer’s book, Writing Effective Report Card Comments.

                Photo credit: Aburk018



                These are really good points to keep in mind when writing report cards. Especially the one that states report cards are permanent records and keepsakes. When I was in teacher's college, a colleague of mine disclosed to the class that her brother was learning disabled and often had poor report card grades and comments. She told us that her father was a raging alcoholic who would quote (and misquote) the report cards comments about her brother. I've lost touch with that colleague but I've taken her warning to heart. I always keep that scenario in mind when I edit report cards: can an abusive adult turn my words into harmful quotes? I try to report a balanced comment that is positive and encouraging, which takes a lot of time, but is worth it if my comments aren't misused.
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