Olds: Evidence about notes home

Do daily report cards communicating between parents and teacher help?

Ever wondered whether it was worthwhile to send notes home about children’s behavior? This post will not provide comprehensive coverage of home-school communication, but there has been a bit of research about using home-school notes as a means of supporting behavior management.

Of course, just thinking about notes between parents and teachers, it’s possible to imagine many things that can go well and others that can…uhm, not go well.

Most readers can see many of the potential issues. Yes, please sing that song about the positives! Notes home should not provide a reason for a parent to punish a child for some misbehavior. Let’s accentuate the postive. We do not want a kid being beaten because she cried in class! It’s better to catch kids being good than to rail about their misbehavior.

So, right, teachers and parents would need to plan the system so that the student wouldn't encounter terrible sanctions for a low report. You'll think of lots of other issues. More help on that in a few secs. 

Early Research

Notes home has been around for a long time. A long-ago article that examined the effectiveness of two different school-home notes to parents. Kelley and McCain (1995) found that when teachers sent notes home that prompted parents to provide at-home consequences, child behavior in the classroom improved. Childen were allowed to choose among a menu of rewards (e.g., extra TV time, snacks, game-play time) for the home-delivered consequences.

The researchers tested two notes-home forms. In one condition, the notes simply showed the teachers' ratings. In the other condition, the notes showed a number of opportunities to succeed and how many of those opportunities the student had met. In the latter case the note home had only five smiley faces, and teachers directed students to cross off smiley faces when the student was not working appropriately on assignments; thus the parents received evidence recorded by the child about her or his performance. According to individual systems pre-arranged between the parents and the teachers, parents knew that a child had to have n (1? 3? 4?) smiley faces to earn a choice of the rewards from the menu.

Both note-home conditions resulted in more on-task behavior and more attempted and completed classwork. The authors argue (probably accurately) that the response-cost condition (the one where students crossed out smiley faces) was more effective, but the big picture is, "Notes Home Work."

The Kelley and McCain study helps to refine note-home effects, but there are lots of other questions about this practice. Let's consider a few.

First, the response-cost procedure (“you messed up; you loose privileges”) may be effective, but is that the idea we want to promote? I recommend an alternative: “Dang, you hit four stars today! Wow! You get [a special hug (I’m so proud of how you’re working on this!) | the chance to pick your place at the dinner table | a choice of (a) ice cream or (b) cookies for desert]!”

Daily Report Card

There is a system based on "Daily Behavior Report Cards," (DBRC) which is a broad term used to refer to a cluster of similar techniques. Essentially, teachers develop a fairly simple system for describing behavior and use it to communicate with parents; parents use the data to provide previously arranged consequences at home. 

M. Tankersley, T. Landrum, K. Vannest, & S. Forness (L-R) at TECBD, Tempe, AZ, 2014

Kimber Vannest and her colleagues (2010) reviewed the results of 17 studies that used DBRCs. They found that, overall, on average children's behavior was improved by about 50%-66% over baseline levels when the DBRCs were in place. The improvements were greater when

  1. There had been a higher level of collaboration between teachers and parents in developing the DBRC system (e.g., planning the consequences),

  2. The DBRC covered a time period of more than one hour of the school day,

  3. The DBRC was designed so that the teacher described the behavior rather than estimating how often the behavior occurred.

Isnardo and pals (2017) examined evidence about home-school notes for children with ADHD. Positive general results.

For those who want to learn more about how to use DBRCs, take a tour of Jim Wright's Intervention Central https://www.interventioncentral.org. Jim has, for example, a description about DBRCs (by Seth Aldrich) as well as other resources for creating them. 


Iznardo, M., Rogers, M. A., Volpe, R. J., Labelle, P. R., & Robaey, R. (2017). The effectiveness of daily behavior report cards for children with ADHD: A meta-analysis. Journal of Attention Disorders, 24(12) 1623-1636. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1087054717734646

Kelley, M. L., & McCain, A. P. (1995). Promoting academic performance in inattentive children: The relative efficacy of school-home notes with and without response cost. Behavior Modification, 19(3), 357-375. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F01454455950193006

Vannest, K. J., Davis, J. L., Davis, C. R., Mason, B. A., & Burke, M. D. (2010). Effective Intervention for Behavior With a Daily Behavior Report Card: A Meta-Analysis. School Psychology Review, 39, 654-672.


Ed Note: This is an update of a post of an article that appeared originally in EBDBlog.com in 2010.