Despite decades of improvements in education, report cards have hardly changed; educators see them as necessary evils that add little to a student's education but fear. Increasingly, though, some schools are trying new ways of communicating with parents that can reduce violence at home and actually enhance learning.

In Attleboro, report cards now include a warning to parents not to let their frustration over grades turn into violence. In Baltimore, middle-school students earn "improvement points" and compete against themselves, not their peers.

Setting Their Own Goals

A school in Manhattan, Kan., has replaced report cards with triangular parent-student-teacher conferences in which the children set their own educational goals and then assess how well they have done ...

While scattered schools around the country are experimenting with alternatives to the report card—portfolios of work, evaluations by the teacher or parent conferences—report cards remain the most important communication between school and home in a vast majority of schools ...

The biggest problems arise when parents overreact. Child advocates in several cities say that when report cards are issued, reports of child abuse go way up. The National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse, a group in Chicago, has a national awareness campaign, with advertisements that read, "Stop the Report Card Reflex."

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