If Schools Issue Report Cards, Should Students Issue Support Cards?

By Dr. Kent Pekel, President & CEO of Search Institute

The 2013-14 school year is well underway, and teachers across America are engaged in writing report cards to document their students’ progress. By June, our nation’s elementary and secondary schools will have cumulatively issued more than 100 million of those report cards, each of which will describe and evaluate how well students are meeting the expectations that teachers and schools have set for them.

Very few of those students, in contrast, will have the opportunity to describe and evaluate the kind and caliber of support they receive to help them meet those expectations. That imbalance should concern us because studies suggest that young people are most likely to achieve difficult objectives if they experience a mix of both challenge and support. If educators don’t ask how supported young people feel in an organized and ongoing way, they have nothing against which to calibrate the levels of challenge they expect young people to embrace and overcome.

A Complementary Companion to Report Cards

What if, to bring better balance to the situation, students issued “support cards” to complement the report cards that they receive throughout their educational careers? The purpose of issuing support cards, it’s important to note, would be to inform instruction and to strengthen supplemental services for students—not to further increase the number of ways that teachers and schools can be evaluated and held accountable.

The information that would be reported on support cards could be collected through short but valid and reliable surveys that ask students to describe the relationships, resources, expectations and opportunities in their lives. For example, more than half a million young people have taken Search Institute’s Developmental Assets Profile over the past seven years, and the data collected through that survey have shown strong correlations between the degree of support that students receive at school and at home and factors such as achievement, motivation, student engagement, and plans for education after high school. A study that my Search Institute colleagues and I are now conducting in a large urban school district with 40,000 students has also found significant correlations between those students’ experience of support and their levels of motivation and academic self-confidence, the frequency with which they practice good study habits, their grades, and their PSAT scores.

A New Way to Gauge Student Perceptions

An effective support card would begin with the basics: which of the school’s academic expectations, if any, does the student feel he or she may not be able to meet? Does the student feel that he or she can ask teachers for help in meeting those expectations? What about counselors and other student support staff? Is the student aware of tutoring, afterschool programs and other assistance that the school offers? What about other services that influence academic outcomes, such as assistance in preparing for postsecondary education or dealing with trauma? In all of these areas, it would be critical to ask students not only if they are aware of the opportunities for assistance that their schools offer, but also how frequently they take advantage of them.

In addition to students’ awareness and utilization of programmatic assistance, the support card should also include the psychological supports that influence student success. Do students feel they have teachers who believe they can succeed in school? Do students feel that school staff will support them if they try something new and fail? Do students feel that their peers support effort and achievement? When we look at patterns across student populations, do we see some groups of students who consistently have less support, suggesting new strategies for addressing educational inequities and gaps?

Resources and Relationships Beyond School Walls

Finally, the support card should also attempt to capture the resources and relationships that shape students’ lives beyond school walls. Search Institute studies have repeatedly found that participation in high-quality out-of-school time programs is associated with strong performance in school. Students who indicate on their support cards that they do not participate in such programs could be connected to them through the community-wide cradle-to-career partnerships that are springing up around the nation.

While schools have limited influence over the ways that parents interact with their children, support cards should nonetheless also ask students about the educational support they receive at home. Do students believe that their families value academic success? How frequently do students think their parents ask them how they are doing at school? Do students feel that they can ask family members for assistance with homework and other tasks?

Schools would need to be careful not to interpret or communicate information on family support as evidence of good or bad parenting. If that information is properly presented, however, it could help parents think about the messages they send to their children in new and potentially very constructive ways. I recently gave the Developmental Assets Profile to my own children, and in spite of (or maybe because of) the decades I have spent working in the field of education, I learned some surprising things about how they experience our family’s approach to learning and school. Data on the support that students receive at home could also help educators better understand the attitudes and behaviors that students bring with them into the classroom every day.

Amp Up Student Support

The idea of creating support cards that capture students’ answers to the questions I have suggested here might seem overwhelming and unnecessary to educators who already receive mountains of information from tests, school climate surveys, and other sources. I would submit, however, that it is information whose time has come after three decades of standards-based education reforms that have often been heavy on challenge but light on support.

The dramatic declines in reading and math scores that are currently being reported in many states confirm that in adopting the Common Core State Standards, the United States has committed itself to another major increase in the level of academic rigor that we expect most of our students to achieve. To help students make that leap, experts and educators across the country are designing new approaches to curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development, and technology. Even as we take those and other steps to change the way the adults in our schools work with young people and with each other, we should also take the time to ask our students if they think they have the support they need to succeed.

Are you interested in learning more about support cards? Join us for a free webinar, Student Support Cards: Help Connect Kids with What They Need to Succeed, on Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013, 12PM - 1PM, CST. Presented by Dr. Kent Pekel, President and CEO of Search Institute, participants will learn about how student support cards can inform instruction and strengthen supplemental services for young people in an organized, ongoing way. Register now >>

Photo Credit: Mark Gstohl



Publish Date: 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

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Upper Bucks Student Support Cards

We have been using the term "student support cards" for over 10 years now in our community. We first heard the term from Derek Peterson (http://www.icar-us.com/). We frame our "results' from the Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors Survey in what we call the Upper Bucks Student Support Card. A copy of our most recent Student Support Card is located at http://www.ubhchy.org/student-support-card/

Thanks for the article Kent.

Tennessee Student Support Card

Wow! This is great stuff! It certainly validates the work that we have been doing in Tennessee for about ten years now. We have been doing Derek Peterson's work with the Student Support Card (http://www.icar-us.com/) with much success. As a matter of fact, we have been meeting with Tennessee legislators around the Student Support Card for months now, and have a major "ask" in to the Tennessee Legislature at this time. The Student Support Card is a great idea and we were so fortunate that Derek Peterson introduced it to us several years ago. Thanks for the validation!

Thanks for the response.

I am not familiar with Mr. Peterson's work but I'd love to learn more about it. I've been thinking about the need to capture how supported young people think they are and actually are since my days filling out report cards as a classroom teacher, so it's great to find that people have already begun to operationalize the idea in communities across the country. Hopefully we can help spread the idea through our work in the years ahead.

Lots of energy to build on

A quick shout-out to Lee, Derek, and Susan from a long-timer in the asset-building work. I should have remember to highlight the great support card that Lee (inspired by Derek) creates in Bucks County based on the assets survey. I also know there's growing momentum for Derek's approach, particularly championed by Susan in Tennessee. We're glad to be part of that broader movement that recognizes that grades and test scores are only narrow measure of one part of young people's success. On this day before Thanksgiving (in the US at least), I'm thankful that there are many parallel efforts underways to ensure that young people have the supports they need in school, at home, and in their communities.


I first met Derek Peterson in 2005-2006 when he was involved in bringing the Integrative Youth Development™ model to Kentucky, after introducing it in Tennessee and other states years before. Then I met his colleague, founder/director of iCARe-Tn, Susan Dillingham. Between them, we are shaping a model of Integrative Student Development™ and The Student Support Card™ to use in the Higher-Ed setting in which I have worked for past 18 years. Most new research shows what Derek Peterson, Lee Rush, Susan Dillingham, Peter Benson and others taught for many years! (ex. "Why Scare Tactics in Drug Prevention Messaging Don’t Work." Drug Free Action Alliance, 2013. )

We are all connected in this web of life. It is positive connections with one or more caring adult that can make all the difference in the life of a child, young adult & beyond!

The International Institute for Student Support

Good minds think alike! And, good hearts act alike! Thank you for amplifying the Student Support Card™. With the support of the US Dept. of Education, we will have been working to take the paperwork work out of our current Student Support Card, and making it available in an app form. (Yes, indeed, soon there'll be an app for that!) Since 1999, we have been using the Student Support Card in Alaska and beyond. You can see evidence of it in British Columbia, Alberta, Northwest Territories, Tennessee, Arizona, California, Kentucky, Illinois, and more... (I did my keynote address to the 2003 National Search Institute conference in San Jose on the topic.) You can find it in local communities that we have worked in, and you can find it informing state and provincial policy. Heck, it was even in the No Child Left Behind law. Again, this spring, it'll be featured as an early bird plenary session at the National School Board Association conference in New Orleans! If you want to learn more, you can find me at www.facebook.com/supportcard, or twitter at supportcard. YES! This is a good idea!! And, the world is ready!! Onward!! Derek

Student issued support cards

In 2005 we started a project that has led to significant feedback from students, most of which we will receive from these 8th graders who in 2005 wrote letters to themselves about their plans and dreams for 10 years into the future, and how they would get there. That reunion will be next November when they know they will be invited to speak with current students about their recommendations for success. This is a School Time-Capsule Project centered on 530-pound vaults bolted to the floor in the school lobby. The goal is to make more real student's vision of their futures. Graduation rates have doubled since the project started with constant improvements. The project now starts with letters from parents to their child about parental dreams for them. Both sets of letters, parent and child, go into one self-addressed envelope for each student. Hopefully within the next 5 years we will be near the 90% graduation rate range. For inner-city urban schools with 95% free and reduced lunch populations, this is exceptional progress. See www.studentmotivation.org and the blog attached. Here is a 9 year report: http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2013/05/school-time-capsule-project-is-9-years.html

Time-Capsule Project

That is a fantastic way to operationalize research about support and possible selves. Thanks so much for pointing this out. I will check the links you shared and I would love to learn more about your work. Thanks again.

Indian Valley Character Counts! Support Cards

Great article. Thanks to the mentoring of Lee Rush, the Indian Valley Character Counts! Coalition based in the Souderton School District, has used the Student Support Card as a resource for parents and the community for several years The information gathered from theSearch Institutes Profile of Students Life: Attitudes And Behaviors survey, is used to develop these support cards. Our Coalition, community and school district finds this information very useful. We are current,y putting together our third support card. Here is a link to ourcurrentky released support card: http://www.ivccc.org/student-support-card/