Changing how we think about assessment – Reporting on Progress

Elementary educators across Ontario are preparing to send home the Provincial Progress Report Card – the first formal reporting communication home to parents. A former colleague of mine called me the other day to chat about the meaning of the qualifiers within the Progress Report (i.e. Progressing…  very well, well, with difficulty). Clearly there is still merit in opening up the discussion related to reporting on student progress. You can never go wrong by talking about purpose and intentionality!

Ontario’s assessment, evaluation, and reporting policy, Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools, 2010 encourages ongoing communication about learning, noting, “Although there are three formal reporting periods, communication with parents and students about student achievement should be continuous throughout the year, by means such as parent-teacher or parent-student-teacher conferences, portfolios of student work, student-led conferences, interviews, phone calls, checklists, and informal reports” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010a, p.53).

If you are an educator in Ontario who has been teaching more than eight years you are aware of the two major changes in reporting in 2010. While maintaining three formal reporting periods, the first period was shortened, to end somewhere between October 20 and November 20; a Progress Report is to be issued at this point. The second period ends between January 20 and February 20, with the final reporting period ending in June. The provincial report card is used to report on learning after the second and third reporting periods. These intentional changes responded to educators’ longstanding feedback to lengthen the reporting periods in order to get to know students as learners and to gather valid and reliable documentation of student progress towards attaining learning goals. The purpose of the Progress Report is to provide information to students and parents early in the school year. It’s intended to act as a checkpoint as well as a time to take stock of progress, calibrate instructional moves and determine next steps in reaching specific learning goals early in the academic year. To support the ‘formative’ nature of this report, learners do not receive letter grades or percentage marks, and educators are encouraged to provide descriptive feedback in the comment boxes.

We have written several posts related to changing the way we think about assessment. Have these posts affirmed your thinking or have they created cognitive dissonance? Making one small change in thinking creates a cascade of rethinking possibilities. The Progress Report is one such change that requires educators to think differently — to implement with a different vision. What if this report was considered as marking a moment along a learning journey rather than an evaluative – end of a learning period – moment? Would this change of thinking make a difference in our mindset? And, would it change how we use the tool, in terms of the information that we convey?

Over the past years we have responded to many questions and concerns related to the Progress Report. A selection of these are listed below alongside a response to consider:

‘This cohort of students are so much weaker than in previous years. I have concerns checking off Progressing Well when I know they should be much further ahead at this time.’ “Ontario… has moved from norm-referenced to criterion-referenced assessment and evaluation. This means that teachers assess and evaluate student work with reference to established criteria …rather than by comparison with work done by other students, or through the ranking of student performance…” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010a, p. 19).
‘What do the qualifiers Progressing Very Well, Progressing Well and Progressing with Difficulty mean?’ The Progress Report Card uses these new terms to indicate early on in the school year areas of strength and possible areas for improvement in student learning or in achieving expectations by January/February or June. The Comments section provides teachers, through the use of personalized and meaningful comments, with an opportunity to clarify for parents how a student is progressing towards meeting the expectations of the subjects, identify significant strengths, areas of difficulty, next steps for improvement and help parents understand how they can support this progress at home.
‘Why are there only three qualifiers? If there were four qualifiers I would be able to connect these to levels 1, 2, 3 and 4.’ The Progress Report was established as a checkpoint at the end of the first reporting period. It was not meant to assign evaluative grades but to be used as a communication tool between educators and parents. Identifying early progress or possible areas for improvement helps educators, parents and students consider ‘Where to next?’ “The phrases “Progressing Very Well, Progressing Well and Progressing with Difficulty” are new terms and are not meant to be directly aligned with the four levels of the achievement chart, letter grades or percentage marks.” (Elementary Report Cards: Questions and Answers, 2011)
‘If I check off Progressing Very Well, parents are surprised when their son/daughter receives a B on the first report card.’ Collaboratively developing understanding about learning goals  and success criteria with students includes inviting parents into the process of understanding what success looks like and sounds like.
‘Parents express concern when Progressing with Difficulty is checked off.’ The Elementary Progress Report Card is intended to “involve parents as partners in a conversation about learning and assessment, and what they can do to support their child’s learning” as well as “identify concerns about student progress early in the school year and develop strategies to improve student learning”. (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010b, p. 3) While educators are encouraged to communicate with parents about student learning on an ongoing basis, the Progress Report is a vehicle to ensure that parents and students receive early information about concerns.

The effective use of the Progress Report hinges on several assessment beliefs: proactively designing a learning plan anchored on establishing  learning goals, collaboratively developing students’ understanding of learning goals as well as success criteria, and witnessing student learning over time.

running-297154_1280One last thought…and a call to action! Over the last few years, districts and federations have created policies and interpretations of Growing Success to support educators, students and parents. What have we learned as a profession about assessment over the last ten years that impacts previous policy and processes? Seeking simplicity beyond the complexity means it’s time to engage in, or reopen, conversations about how we communicate progress. Talk to a colleague about some of the ideas in this post that either affirmed or challenged your thinking.

We’d love to hear from you! Post your comments or questions below.

Elementary Report Cards: Questions and Answers, September 2011. (2011). Retrieved from on October 17, 2018.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010a). Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools. First Edition, Covering Grades 1 to 12. Toronto, ON: Author.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010b). Reporting Student Learning: Guidelines for Effective Teacher-Parent-Student Communication. Toronto, ON: Author.


  1. I found by focusing on the term “progress” and the intent of it being a “checkpoint to take stock of progress, calibrate instructional moves and determine next steps” that I didn’t have to focus so much on how they did on the one or two tests or the major assignment that they had completed in the first six weeks of the term. Instead, I found my practice changing to observing a few students each day and recording comments of what they were doing well and what they were struggling with in terms of the learning goals for that day, and what they would need to do next. over a six week. I would end up with a google doc with three or four comments for each student in my class and wasn’t relying on a couple of final assessments or feeling pressured to add another assessment in order to make comments on the progress report. These comments, recorded from my observations and conversations with students, could be shared with students to discuss their progress and what their next steps could be. This way they weren’t surprised by what was going to be on the progress report, they already knew. And I wasn’t scrambling to “come up with” report card comments, I already had valid ones to choose from and wasn’t trying to remember something that happened or been demonstrated four weeks ago.


    1. Thanks Deb for sharing! Your narrative is an accurate reflection of how the assessment loop ‘feeds into’ the process of assessment of learning, evaluation and reporting. Sharing what you had documented with students involved them in the assessment process leading to determining next steps for both students and you. As you stated – no surprises!


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