Delivering a year-end review isn't the same as an end-of-semester report card. Report cards only grade the work that was done. Good year-end reviews assess the work that was done and also give guidance on how the work could be done better.
Report Cards are One-Way, Reviews are Two-Way
Report cards carry the teacher's assessment, and are sent home for signatures – students don't get to explain their side. But reviews shouldn't be based solely on the manager's feedback. Review conversations should be a discussion, with the employee offering their insights as well. Both the manager and the employee should come to the review prepared. If the manager has to make negative comments, they should be able to identify specific instances where the employee's contribution was weak, and be able to suggest methods of improvement.
Report Cards Look at the Past, Reviews Look to the Future
Report cards assess performance over the past year; they aren't intended to help students do better the next year. Reviews need to evaluate the past year's performance, but it's more important to plan for the next year. This requires identifying both areas where the employee needs to improve and areas where the employee wants to advance. Both the employer and employee should leave the review discussion with an understanding of what the employee hopes to achieve and how they will work towards that accomplishment.
Report Cards are One Person's Opinion, Reviews Take a Broader View
Report cards are written by a single teacher. An employee's review shouldn't be just the manager's opinion. Even in companies where a formal 360-degree evaluation process doesn't exist, it's important for managers to solicit input from the other people who see the employee's work. This can mean the other technical team members or the other internal departments the employee works with. Opinions from employees' peers should be solicited informally; other department's opinions can be solicited more formally through the management chain. Because managers often don't work closely enough with employees to know their work firsthand, getting opinions from other staff offers a clearer understanding of their work. It also lets the employee understand how their work is affecting the organization, which is what work is really all about.