Rethinking report cards
Linking report cards to state standards is the newest report card trend. Here's why schools are doing it and what you can expect if your school makes the change.
What should I do if my child's school is switching to a standards-based report card?
Ask lots of questions! If there is anything about the report card that you don't understand or that is confusing, ask your child's teacher to explain. If you are not sure if your child is doing well, ask the teacher to explain the system. For example, if your child is not proficient in some skills, ask his teacher if you should be concerned about his progress. Is he on track to be proficient by the end of the year?
Be sure you find out whether your child is completing assignments and developing good work habits. That may not be clearly indicated on the report card. Because the academic marks on a standards-based report card usually do not reflect a child's effort, attitude or work habits, it is important for parents to be sure they have a complete picture of their child's learning. Some children may be able to show mastery of the standards in the lower grades without good work habits, but that will get more difficult as they progress through the grades. If there is a problem with attitude, effort or study skills, parents need to be able to intervene as early as possible.
Take advantage of the extra information. Standards-based report cards give you more detailed information about how your child is doing in each subject. You can use this information to help your child. Choose a skill you're concerned about and ask the teacher how you can help your child with it at home. You can also ask the teacher what he can do to help your child at school.
Let your child's teacher and principal know what you think of the new report card. Because report cards are designed to communicate with parents, they need to be easy to understand and helpful to parents. If you have any suggestions or concerns about your school's report card, share them with the teacher and principal. Your comments may help improve it.
By GreatSchools Staff
Did your grandparents give you a dollar for each A on your report card? Did you spend your high school years hoping you would squeak by with C's in important classes? Did you ever see the dreaded F on a paper, test or your report card?
For a growing number of today's elementary school students, those days are gone. They may not see letter grades on their report cards until middle school or later. As the No Child Left Behind law pushes schools and educators across the country to center their teaching on content and learning standards, report cards are beginning to look different, too. From Nashville, Tennessee to Marlborough, Massachusetts and Honolulu, Hawaii, schools are pairing standards-based report cards with their standards-based teaching, and parents are getting more information about their students' achievement.
What are state standards?
Every state has adopted its own list of the skills that students should learn at each grade level from kindergarten through high school. These lists are the state content and learning standards. Here are some examples:
- In Arizona, fifth-graders are expected to be able to compare whole numbers, fractions and decimals. For example, fifth-graders should be able to determine that 0.6 is larger than 1/2.
- In California, first-graders should be able to read common, irregular words like the, have, said, come, give and of.
- In Nebraska, twelfth-graders should have an understanding of the structure of the atom, and be able to describe different types of nuclear reactions.
What is a standards-based report card?
A standards-based report card lists the most important skills students should learn in each subject at a particular grade level. For example, in writing, a second-grade report card might list these skills:
- Writes in complete sentences
- Uses capital letters, periods, question marks and quotation marks correctly
- Uses the writing process (prewriting, first draft, revision, and final draft)
- Writes a friendly letter with a greeting, body and conclusion
- Knows the purpose and use of a dictionary, thesaurus and atlas
Instead of letter grades, students receive marks that show how well they have mastered the skills. The marks might show whether the student is advanced, proficient, basic or below basic for each standard or they might be numbers representing whether students meet, exceed or approach each standard. Students usually get separate marks for effort and work habits, which are important for parents to keep tabs on even if these characteristics aren't included in the assessment of the student's academic skills.
How are standards-based report cards different from traditional report cards?
On many traditional report cards, students receive one grade for reading, one for math, one for science and so on. On a standards-based report card, each of these subject areas is divided into a list of skills and knowledge that students are responsible for learning. Students receive a separate mark for each standard.
The marks on a standards-based report card are different from traditional letter grades. Letter grades are often calculated by combining how well the student met his particular teacher's expectations, how he performed on assignments and tests, and how much effort the teacher believes he put in. Letter grades do not tell parents which skills their children have mastered or whether they are working at grade level. Because one fourth-grade teacher might be reviewing basic multiplication facts, while another is teaching multiplication of two- or three-digit numbers, getting an A in each of these classes would mean very different things. The parent of a child in these classes would not know if the child were learning what he should be to meet the state standards.
Standards-based report cards should provide more consistency between teachers than traditional report cards, because all students are evaluated on the same grade-appropriate skills. Parents can see exactly which skills and knowledge their children have learned. According to Hoover Liddell, special assistant to the superintendent in the San Francisco Unified School District in California, the marks on a standards-based report card show only how well the child has mastered the grade-level standards, and do not include effort, attitude or work habits, which are usually marked separately.