Most people can agree that there's more to evaluating students' strengths and abilities than assessments and grades. Grades don't reflect the vast array of learning styles, abilities, student interest, or a model of multiple intelligences. A growing consensus also says that there's a lot of value in measuring the whole-child experience, considering more than academic competencies.
Why Create a 'Whole-Child' Report Card?
Measuring the whole child experience is essential because of how it can address three important things that tend to top the priority lists of school districts and the communities they call home:
- Student Well-Being: Let's start with the obvious. How a student performs in school can indicate their overall well-being, and while academic proficiency tracking measures part of that, it's only one part. Knowing where students need additional attention allows adults to provide that attention.
- Equitable Outcomes: Flat measurements across one area of student experience may allow for a top-down view of iniquity, but it doesn't necessarily address the source of it. Disaggregation provides an expanded view which allows for root-cause analysis of stubborn "gaps" in achievement and outcome.
- Community Health: Just as community and economic factors and resources tightly shape a student's well-being and outcome, the inverse is also true. In other words, student growth and community growth are inextricably linked.
Whole-Student Reporting Has A Unique Set of Challenges
Creating the "whole-child" report card is a concept that's worth pursuing but hard to transform into a regular practice. That's thanks in large part to the fact that when you attempt to quantify the unquantifiable, it tends to have a flattening effect: we want to measure a spectrum of markers, even socio-emotional ones, in order to improve them, but we risk losing the nuance of those markers by reducing them to numbers on a page when we do.
So, how can school communities address this particular puzzle? How can you create a deeper picture of student well-being without losing sight of the student as an individual?
Don't Shy Away From Measuring Academic Competencies
Every school district has a mandate on the state and federal level to report some degree of academic achievement as well as competency for their students. While a hyperfocus on these markers can veer into a counterproductive territory, the remedy isn't to shift focus wholly away from them, either.
Assessment performance data, grade point averages, advanced placement course participation, and matriculation, graduation, and repetition rates are all useful accountability metrics that can give stakeholders critical insight into what kind of results the current efforts of the school community are yielding.
Most school districts begin with these metrics anyway. The key is to prevent them from being an endpoint. There's also an argument to be made for voluntarily seeking out additional academic markers to measure that begin to widen the scope of the insights that data can provide. For instance:
- Learning styles
- Multiple intelligence type
- Science-backed personality type
- Tracked variations in 4-year course planning and postsecondary goal-setting
Explore Socio-Emotional Indicators, But Do Regular 'Bias Checks'
"Socio-emotional" covers a lot of ground. Family structure, income demographics, community resources, adverse childhood experiences, relationships and the entire spectrum of "soft skills" — including grit and resilience — could all potentially be called socio-emotional factors.
Capturing information about students' home environments, social and emotional learning, and more helps school districts, educators, and counselors capture the "story" of an individual student. You can't have a "whole-child" report card without it.
It is how you might find that a student with multiple behavioral interventions is also experiencing a major transition in the home - like a divorce, death, or parental income loss. It may be how you discover that a segment of learners requires reliable after-school care, or that a student who turns in assignments late does not have a reliable internet connection.
Tuning in to what is going on "below the surface" is key to educating the whole child. These insights belong on a whole-child report card, and it's a rare educator, counselor, or administrator who does not wish for more time and resources to explore them further. The promise of quantifiable socioeconomic indicators feels like a step in the right direction — a way to take these important factors out of the black box so they can be addressed in the light of day.
In fact, the use of student surveys that measure intangibles like grit and tools like the CDC's Adverse Childhood Event (ACE) Questionnaire are increasingly proliferating in educational environments, arguably a net positive. School districts are beginning to measure:
- Bullying Incidents
- Family Structure
- Meaningful Relationships
However, turning these insights into data points comes packaged with the risk of depersonalization. We are all vulnerable to succumbing to bias, even when that bias is well-intentioned or unconscious. Regular bias checks and developing cross-cultural sensitivity and skills can help keep Grit scales and ACE categories from becoming reductive.
If a student is not "just" their Math Competency assessment score, they are not "just" their family's affluence or free and reduced lunch status. Race, income bracket, and family structure inform engagement, achievement, and outcome, but none of those things define it.
Include the Student Voice in the Whole-Student Report Card
Often, the "missing piece" in whole-student education and reporting is the student themselves. More specifically, their unique perspective and concept of themselves.
Think of the comment section of a traditional report card. They're often what students, families, and subsequent educators rely on to get a better picture of what's up with a student — where they thrive and what they struggle with.
When we ask students to add their own comments and bring them in to develop the evaluation framework for measuring the whole-student experience, that picture expands even further. More importantly, it allows space for empathy, which is less quantifiable but immeasurably powerful.
If you're ready to start measuring whole-student outcomes, get in touch with SchooLinks today. We help school districts go beyond basic reporting to measure what matters. Schedule a personalized demo and see how we can help you meet your reporting goals, too.