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Ask A REL Response

January 2017


What research has been conducted on letter grade report cards compared to other types of progress reports?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on teacher professional development. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the effects of professional development on teacher performance and student outcomes in K-12 education. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. and We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Brown, C. (2011). Searching for the norm in a system of absolutes: A case study of standards-based accountability reform in pre-kindergarten. Early Education and Development, 22(1), 151-177.
    From the abstract: "Research Findings: The emergence of standards-based accountability reforms in early childhood education has created new challenges for the field. This article presents findings from a case study that explored how stakeholders in a large urban pre-kindergarten program struggled to implement an assessment tool that aligned the normative academic achievement expectations found among their teachers and administrators with the absolute measures of this construct found in their state policymakers' high-stakes standards-based accountability reforms. Analyzing the tension that emerged in this process of alignment highlights the challenges early educators face as they fold their child-centered programs into these larger high-stakes standards-based kindergarten through grade 12 education systems. Practice and Policy: The findings from this study illuminate the need for early childhood education programs to understand how high-stakes standards-based accountability reforms define student achievement. Furthermore, as early childhood programs and personnel address these reforms, their responses need to be explicit about how their assessment measures are connected to their normative conceptualizations of student achievement and what this means for the education of children in their programs. (Contains 7 footnotes, 1 table, and 3 figures.)"
  2. Cox, K. B., (2011). Putting classroom grading on the table: A reform in progress. American Secondary Education, 40(1), 67-87.
    From the abstract: "In a standards-based instructional program, what does a course grade convey? What should it convey? What is the role of homework in assigning grades? What is the role of common assessments? This case study examined the responses of two groups of high school teachers during a district wide reform of grading practices. The first was a focus group of seven advocates of non-traditional grading practices aligned with specific district grade reforms: (a) 50% minimal score for a failing grade, (b) retesting without penalty, (c) acceptance of late work, and (d) course-alike, standards-based grading agreements. The second group of nine teachers, including seven randomly selected teacher leaders from across the district, participated individually in semi-structured interviews. Findings confirmed earlier research on the role of individual teacher beliefs on grading practice and the emphasis that many teachers place on student effort when they assign grades. Additional findings have implications for leadership actions that may influence grading practices of secondary teachers. (Contains 2 tables and 1 figure.)"
  3. Hooper, J., & Cowell, R. (2014). Standards-based grading: History adjusted true score. Educational Assessment, 19(1), 58-76.
    From the abstract: "There has been much research and discussion on the principles of standards-based grading, and there is a growing consensus of best practice. Even so, the actual process of implementing standards-based grading at a school or district level can be a significant challenge. There are very practical questions that remain unclear, such as how the grades should be calculated. Common methods include a simple average, averaging only the more recent scores, mathematical models of growth over time, and basic teacher judgment. It is difficult to choose a single method that is justifiable in all circumstances. This article proposes a new method, the history-adjusted true score that can be applied in a wide variety of situations. A rigorous method of evaluating each grading method is also described."
  4. Iamarino, D. L. (2014). The benefits of standards-based grading: A critical evaluation of modern grading practices. Current Issues in Education, 17(2).
    From the abstract: "This paper explores the methodology and application of an assessment philosophy known as standards-based grading, via a critical comparison of standards-based grading to other assessment philosophies commonly employed at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels of education. Evidenced by examples of increased student engagement and more thorough comprehension of course materials, standards-based grading is illustrated as an effective replacement for conventional points-based grading. The analysis also identifies and responds to common issues and concerns inherent in the application of standards-based grading, and includes a review of relevant literature and research in support of standards-based grading as a progressive and successful alternative to more conventional assessment philosophies."
  5. Melograno, V. J. (2007) Grading and report cards for standards-based physical education, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance (JOPERD), 78(6), 45-53.
    From the abstract: "This article explores the realities of grading and report cards within the context of standards-based physical education (SBPE). Specific objectives are to (1) identify standards for conducting quality assessments, (2) examine grading issues and concerns, (3) present guidelines for grading in SBPE programs, and (4) exemplify grading and reporting schemes that emphasize clear reference points (content standards and learning targets). Teachers need to assess accurately and use assessment to benefit students, not merely to sort and grade students. The keys to quality assessment practices are built on five dimensions: a clear purpose, clear targets, sound design, effective communication, and student involvement. Teachers also need to decide the basis for grading, which ingredients to use, how factors will be weighted, degree of professional judgment, and relative emphasis on mastery and progress. This article offers practical guidelines for grading in SBPE that support learning and student success, and includes samples of an evaluation report and a report card that align with learning targets and standards. (Contains 3 tables and 2 figures.)"
  6. Sousa, D. A., Luze, G., & Hughes-Belding, K. (2014). Preferences and attitudes toward progress reporting methods of parents from diverse backgrounds. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 28(4), 499-512.
    From the abstract: "There is a growing movement in education toward data-based decision-making requiring frequent monitoring of student progress. However, the literature fails to provide direction as to the best means of communicating information about a child's progress with his or her parents. Given the increasing number of immigrant families being served, it is essential that we study the best method of communicating with parents from diverse backgrounds. In this study, six families from diverse ethnic backgrounds were interviewed and asked to share their thoughts about the information they receive from the educators serving their children. In addition, they were asked to rank their preference for receiving information about their children's progress, choosing from among a narrative, a graph, and a rubric. All but one parent reported the narrative as their preferred method for receiving information about their child. This discovery may impact the use of visual graphics, used to record progress, with parents from diverse backgrounds."
  7. Swan, G. M., Guskey, T. R. & Jung, L. A. (2014). Parents' and teachers' perceptions of standards-based and traditional report cards. Educational Assessment and Accountability, 26(3), 289-299.
    From the abstract: "The purpose of this study was to determine parents' and teachers' perceptions of standards-based and traditional report cards. Participants included 115 parents/guardians of students from a single, midsize school district that had implemented a standards-based report card. During the first two marking periods, all parents/guardians received both a traditional report card in which teachers assigned a single overall grade for each subject and a standards-based report card that included marks for individual standards within subjects. After midyear, parents were asked to complete a survey that asked which form they preferred and the reasons for their preference. Three hundred and eighty three teachers from two nearby midsize school districts considering the adoption of the same standards-based report card completed a similar survey. Parents overwhelmingly preferred the standards-based form. The teachers considering the adoption of a standards based report card were positive overall, but significantly less than the parents who had received them."
  8. Welsh, M. E., D'Agostino, J. V., & Kaniskan, B. (2013). Grading as a reform effort: Do standards-based grades converge with test scores? Educational Management, 32(2), 26-36.
    From the abstract: "Standards-based progress reports (SBPRs) require teachers to grade students using the performance levels reported by state tests and are an increasingly popular report card format. They may help to increase teacher familiarity with state standards, encourage teachers to exclude nonacademic factors from grades, and/or improve communication with parents. The current study examines the SBPR grade-state test score correspondence observed across 2 years in 125 third and fifth grade classrooms located in one school district to examine the degree of consistency between grades and state test results. It also examines the grading practices of a subset of 37 teachers to determine whether there is an association between teacher appraisal style and convergence rates. A moderate degree of grade-test score convergence was observed using three agreement estimates (coefficient kappa, tau-b correlations, and classroom-level mean differences between grades and test scores). In addition, only small amounts of grade-test score convergence were observed between teachers; a much greater proportion of variance lay within classrooms and subjects. Appraisal style correlated weakly with convergence rates, but was most strongly related to assigning students to the same performance level as the test. Therefore using recommended grading practices may improve the quality of SBPR grades to some extent. (Contains 5 tables and 3 figures.)"


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Grading and academic standards and comparative analysis
  • Letter grade report cards compared to standards-based grading Comparative analysis and standards-based grades and letter grade reports Parent-teacher conferences and letter grade report cards and other types of progress reports

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2001 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.