'A' for effort

March 17, 1992

Teaching in public schools, never an easy field, must seem particularly wrenching to its practitioners these days. The public demands greater accountability. The government needs to take some money out of teacher paychecks. Youngsters mature too quickly and many parents seem too stressed to care.

In this fog, fortunately, you can still find a teacher such as Martha Cole at Rodgers Forge Elementary School in Baltimore County. Ms. Cole felt the traditional letter grades on report cards weren't appropriate for her first graders. Youngsters were just getting used to school, yet their parents couldn't help but be disappointed if Johnny or Janey weren't bringing home straight-As right away. With the help of her principal, Ms. Cole got approval to try an alternative: A complex five-page evaluation that sums up a child's work as "progressing" or "needs improvement," among other categories. She follows up by holding conferences with parents.

Mrs. Cole isn't the only teacher on the cutting edge of relieving report card mania for beginners.

Sandalwood Elementary in Essex may seem a world away from yuppified suburban Towson, with 75 percent of its students on the reduced-price lunch program, the highest rate among Baltimore County elementaries. Yet its first-grade teachers also have crafted a non-report-card report card. They won special funds to print it, got support from their principal and backing from parents, who made arrangements to attend daytime conferences with the teachers about the evaluations.

Despite stress in their profession, these teachers persist in coming up with a better formula to help their students grow. In our book, this deserves, well, an "A." We couldn't resist.

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