Bye, A's and F's — elementary report cards using M's, U's
By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Education Writer
Don't strain your eyes looking for A's, B's and C's on your child's elementary school report card this quarter.
The traditional public school report card has given way to a standards-based assessment system that uses M's, N's and U's to indicate whether students are proficient at grade-level academic standards.
Joan Riggs, a mom at Maunawili Elementary School, which is among a handful of schools that piloted the new report cards for the past two years, said the new system changes the way that educators, parents and students think about grades.
"It's been good from the standpoint that it isn't really the grade that you're looking at anymore, it's whether you understand what you're learning," she said.
But the transition can be rough for parents and children accustomed to seeing rows of A's decorating the report cards. Since the standards are taught over the course of the year, students should not be expected to have mastered them right off the bat.
Said Greg Weathers, another Maunawili parent: "What I've noticed is at the beginning of the year, they're kind of at the lower end of the scale, they're approaching or below that point, but as the year goes by ... they've got them up to snuff, where they know what they should have learned by that point."
EMPHASIS ON LEARNING
The new report cards reflect the Department of Education's academic standards, which are the measure used to determine each spring whether schools are bringing students up to the grade-level expectations in core subjects.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, all students are expected to be proficient in all core subjects by 2014, with gradual improvement expected each year. The standards-based report cards are one way to track student progress.
The DOE is working on standards-based report cards for the secondary grades. These cards will be used in a pilot program next school year, with plans to implement them in fall 2007.
One major concern about the shift is how the grades will translate if a child moves to a different school that uses the traditional grading system, or if that student is applying to private school or college.
After two years of looking at the new report cards, Riggs no longer thinks it will make a difference, because the standards-based report cards look more at the total student.
"A lot of it is thinking you have to get good grades to go to college. But just because it's an M and not an A doesn't mean you didn't make the grade," she said.
In addition, she pointed out that private schools and colleges often require entrance exams and essays anyway. "I don't think just changing the grading system is going to drastically affect the playing field," she said.
For schools that have piloted the new report cards, the work has been a challenge, and a reward, principals say.
Maunawili principal Arlyne Yonemoto said the report cards reflect the way the school has been changing and mapping its curriculum to align it with the academic goals. "It's very workable, but it's a lot of work," she said.
Steve Nakasato, principal of Mililani Ike Elementary School, said the marks on the report cards reflect a change in the way teachers assess their students. Now, whether students have completed homework or done well on a particular test hold less weight.
FEW PARENT COMPLAINTS
While the new report cards can be confusing, both Maunawili and Mililani Ike heard few complaints from parents, in part because both schools held informational sessions to explain the changes and make the transition easier.
The report cards will offer parents more information than the traditional cards did. For instance, instead of seeing only a grade in math, parents will be able to tell if their kindergartner can count to 10 or if their sixth-grader can estimate and measure fluently and accurately.
Weathers said teachers are putting much more work into assessing students. "They have to give more explanations as to why they're coming up with the evaluations they're coming up with on the kids. They have to back up how they came to the conclusion on the grades," he explained.
Riggs appreciates the more detailed reports because they force parents to look at how their child is really performing.
"We can't assume that if our kids get A's or B's that they're doing OK," she said. "They might have gotten their A or their B on their report card, but they might not be understanding what they're learning. This eliminates the learning-by-rote concept."
This was a big change for her daughter, an overachiever used to going for the A. "There was an element of disappointment," she said.
The report cards offer an ME, which means the child has performed beyond grade-level expectations, but those are hard to come by.
"At the end of the year, by my understanding, it's virtually impossible to get an E, especially in a core subject," Riggs said.
Her daughter had to adjust her thinking so that she was working to master the material instead of trying to earn a good mark. "If you're shooting for the grade, you're missing the point," Riggs said.
Weathers likes how the report cards reflect the direction the DOE is taking in regard to instruction. "In my opinion, it's a good thing to hold kids to a higher standard and have something concrete to look at," he said. "The report card is based on the standards, so they go hand in hand."
Reach Treena Shapiro at email@example.com.