May 24 2007

Building a Better Report Card

More schools adopt standards-based measurements to reflect student achievement.

By Heather B. Hayes

When Ohio first introduced its academic content standards in the late 1990s, teachers at Wyandot Elementary School in Dublin quickly adapted their classroom instruction to meet the associated benchmarks and indicators. They struggled at the end of each grading period, however, when they had to somehow translate their more complex student evaluations onto a traditional report card.

"Everyone complained about it all the time, because our report cards simply did not reflect what we were teaching anymore," says Wyandot Principal John Phifer.

In 2002, administrators sat down with teachers and a blank piece of paper and began a three-year initiative to come up with a report card that worked in conjunction with standards-based instruction. The report card went into effect in the fall of 2005.

Unlike a traditional report card, which gives a single mark for overall performance in each subject, a standards-based report card uses a marking system that highlights a student's progress toward key standards. At Wyandot, for example, a third-grader who has achieved the skills associated with, say, phonemic awareness will receive an "AC": achieving the standard. If a child is working toward the necessary skills, he or she will receive a "PR" (progressing toward the standard) or "LP" (limited progress).

"It is a more positive way than just putting a letter or number grade on everything," says Gloria Dowden, a third-grade teacher at Wyandot Elementary. "Children -- and their parents -- understand where they have to work harder and they then do work harder toward achieving their goals."

Wyandot Elementary is not alone. Schools across the country are abandoning traditional report cards -- and even the familiar "A" grade -- in favor of innovative, more detailed standards-based report cards. Among those that already have some form of the new report card in place are the Beverly Hills Unified School District in California, the Griffin-Spalding County school system in Georgia, the Hawaii School District, Narragansett Elementary School in Rhode Island and Maury County Public Schools in Tennessee.

Recognizing Benefits

Diane Mead, a teacher on special assignment in the Educational Services department and project coordinator for Service Learning at Beverly Hills, says the new report card offers a number of clear benefits. Teachers are better able to target their instruction, recognize when and where students are falling behind and communicate better with parents. Parents understand exactly where their children need to focus their efforts.

Most important, perhaps, students are truly rewarded when they finally "get" a concept. Under the old system, a child who got a 50 on a test early in the quarter, while struggling with a skill but worked at it to the point where he or she got a 100 on a test at the end of the quarter, would still only rank as a "C" student. With Beverly Hill's standards-based report card, they would get a "4" for exceeding the standard. "Kids feel more successful," Mead says.

Getting Started

Here are some tips from school administrators and teachers on how to start the process of changing your schoolÍs report card.

Take Your Time.

Designing a standards-based report card is not something that can be accomplished in a few meetings over summer vacation, says Phifer. His school district spent three years planning for and making the switch.

Leverage the Technology.

Thanks to the level of detail involved and the performance data they seek to show, standards-based report cards lend themselves to technology and data aggregation. There's a range of possibilities: Beverly Hills is using a database program that allows teachers to input marks and comments via computer, and enables administrators to run a variety of performance reports.

Use the Work of Other Schools.

Find schools in your district or state that have already designed standards-based report cards and leverage what they have done to get a jump-start on the process, says Ashley Crawford, K-5 curriculum director for Griffin-Spalding County school system in Griffin, Ga.

Be Flexible.

The new report cards are so lengthy that Wyandot Elementary, for example, switched from a quarterly to a trimester grading system.

Get Parents' Perspective.

Scott Gaines, supervisor of elementary instruction at Maury County Public Schools in Columbia, Tenn., advises bringing a sampling of parents into the dialogue early, so you can address their concerns and make sure the design will be truly informative.

When in Doubt, Just Start.

If you feel overwhelmed, try initiating a pilot project in one school for one grade level. "It's important to just try," says Crawford. "Schools will quickly be able to show teachers and parents the benefits."


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