Rethinking report cards
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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
Why are some districts switching to standards-based report cards?
Diane Mead, a teacher on special assignment in the Beverly Hills Unified School District in California , believes students are the biggest winners when standards-based report cards are used. These report cards give students specific information about how they?re doing and pinpoint where they need to improve.
This approach can carry over to classroom assignments, too, as the report card influences the way teachers assess student learning throughout the year. In the first two years of using a standards-based report card in Beverly Hills, teachers worked together to describe clearly what student work that meets the standards looks like. Teachers share these expectations with students, often posting them on the classroom wall. Now when students get an assignment they know exactly what they have to do to be proficient or advanced. That?s a big change from the way assignments used to be given and graded. "If you get a 90%, it doesn?t tell you much about where to go from there," said Mead.
Liddell, who leads a standards-based report card pilot project in San Francisco, said that the new report card is part of an effort to close the gap in achievement among different groups of students. Because concrete skills and knowledge are listed on the report card, it is one way to help monitor whether all students are being exposed to the same curriculum and learning the skills they should learn in each grade.
The new report cards also make the standards very clear to parents, noted Liddell. "Parents should know exactly what their students should be able to do." The new San Francisco report card is based directly on the California standards, although not every standard is listed on the report card. Parents will receive a complete list of the California standards along with the report card.
How will standards-based report cards affect my child?
Al Friedenberg, principal of Grant Elementary in Santa Monica, California, jokes that kids will get rich if they get $5 for each good grade on a standards-based report card, because students receive many more marks than on a traditional report card.
Joking aside, one of the biggest adjustments for students and parents is that many standards-based report cards focus on end-of-the-year goals. This means that in the first or second grading period, instead of getting A's for trying hard and doing well on tests, a high-achieving student might have several marks indicating that she is not yet proficient in some skills. Although this is normal since most students will not meet all of the year's goals in the first quarter, it can be disconcerting to parents and kids used to seeing all A's or B's.
Another big change for students is understanding the concept of "advanced" or "exceeding standards." Advanced is not necessarily the equivalent of an A on a traditional report card. For example, if a fifth-grader received A's on every math test during the semester, she would probably receive an A on a traditional report card. If those math tests measured only the concepts fifth graders are expected to master, those A's would be the equivalent of "proficient" on a standards-based report card; the student is doing what he should be doing, but not necessarily more.
Friedenberg noted that this means teachers need to provide opportunities for students to show they can exceed what is expected and be truly advanced. Standards-based report cards can encourage teachers to make sure their lessons offer students chances to go beyond "grade level." Mead said one analogy her district uses to explain this difference to parents is: "You climb up the hill to be proficient, but you have to fly off to be exemplary."
Standards-based report cards provide the added benefit of keeping teachers and parents focused on student learning goals from the very beginning of the year. Friedenberg said this gives his students a chance to get help where it?s most needed, sooner rather than later.
Are there problems with standards-based report cards?
As with any new program, students and parents should also expect some glitches and changes in the first few years. Both Mead and Friedenberg noted that the first couple years with their standards-based report cards were challenging for teachers as they dealt with technical difficulties at the same time they were working to align their teaching and assessment with the new report cards. Patience and understanding from parents and students go a long way when schools are working out bugs in a new program.
Friedenberg also said the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has significantly revised its standards-based report card each year. He said the first year students received 54 different marks, which proved too many for most parents to comprehend. "A lot of parents said there were so many categories that they couldn't figure out what it meant, so they just looked at the teacher comments," said Friedenberg. For this year, the report card was scaled down to include a smaller number of key standards.
Why don't we see standards-based report cards in middle or high school?
Although states have standards for middle and high school classes, there are many challenges to using a standards-based report card at these levels. According to Liddell, one of the biggest concerns is that students need traditional grade-point averages and transcripts to be competitive in applying to college. He also noted that the large number of subjects students study in high school would make standards-based report cards unwieldy.
Mead suggested that middle and high school teachers think their method of averaging scores to get letter grades is fair and precise in contrast to looking at pieces of work and deciding whether they are advanced, proficient, basic or below basic. She believes most middle and high schools need to focus on developing standards-based instruction and assessments before they will be ready to use standards-based report cards.
Despite the challenges, a few pioneering schools are experimenting with standards-based report cards. For example, six middle schools in Portland, Oregon began using a standards-based report card five years ago, according to Cynthia Gilliam, Director of Accountability for Portland Public Schools. While the report cards are being used successfully at the pilot schools, consistency in interpreting the standards between teachers and schools across the district is important to the report card's success, according to Gilliam. Portland has put on hold plans to use the standards-based report card at more schools while it fine-tunes common curricula and assessments across the district. Gilliam said the district did not plan to push ahead with the report card until there was a "clear calibration of how good was good enough [to meet a particular standard]."
In High School Report Cards, Carol Boston suggested that a report card that combines traditional grades with information about progress toward standards might be a good option for middle and high schools. If standards-based instruction continues to grow in importance, there may be movement toward combination report cards at the middle or high school level.