Letter grades given C-minus after study Baltimore County schools may switch

April 16, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Letter grades would be "discouraged but not forbidden" in Baltimore County elementary schools beginning next year under recommendation the county school board received last night.

Instead of giving A's and B's, teachers would be encouraged to use checklists of skills, such as "reads fluently" and "computes accurately," which they can assess with standardized comments, such as "achieves standards independently" and "achieves standards with assistance."

Classroom behavior would be evaluated with a plus sign for outstanding, a check mark for satisfactory and a minus sign for "needs improvement."

The brief recommendations, which include both guiding principles and more formal procedures, came from two committees studying alternatives to traditional letter grades.

The recommendations were presented to the school board last night. The board will not take action on them until mid-May. Between now and then, the board will ask citizen advisory councils to study the recommendations and suggest changes.

Alternatives to letter grades are being explored in school systems around the country, as educators argue that traditional grades no longer measure what is being taught, label children as either good or poor students early in their education and can damage their self-esteem.

At least 10 Baltimore County schools are experimenting with alternatives to letter grades, including expanded parent-teacher conferences. They have received mixed reviews, especially from parents who like traditional grades as a measure of their youngsters' progress.

The committees also recommended that formal letter grades be required in high school, with middle schools providing a transition to formal letter grading.

In keeping with the school system's move to site-based management, which gives principals more authority to run their schools, the committees did not say what form the written evaluations should take.

Instead, they provided samples of elementary and high school report cards and indicated that a middle school model would be ready before school opens in the fall.

The elementary prototype "reflects input from parents, administrators, classroom teachers and central office staff," said Cynthia Bowen, an elementary supervisor and committee spokeswoman.

The prototype lists each discipline -- language, mathematics, social studies, science, library and media, arts, music, physical education -- and a number of behaviors under each one. In the "self-development" section are behaviors such as "shows respect for others," "uses good work habits" and "listens and responds to oral instructions."

The current high school report card will serve as the prototype at that level.

Superintendent Stuart Berger has said frequently that he doesn't believe in letter grades, especially in the lower grades. One report card committee, however, began work in September 1991, eight months before Dr. Berger was hired.

Although the recommendations do not slam the door on traditional letter grades, Ms. Bowen would not speculate on whether some schools would continue to use them.

One school board critic, however, said she would bet against A's and B's.

"I'd be shocked to find anyone doing it," said Shirley Giberson, who has organized the new parents' group, PRIDE -- Parents' Rights in Developing Education.

The second committee, headed by Pikesville Middle School principal Carol Batoff, was named by Dr. Berger last fall to develop a philosophy of student evaluation and to recommend if letter grades should be given and at what level.

That 30-member committee of administrators, students, parents and teachers held two public hearings last winter and, though the turnout was small, "we had probably every perspective, every opinion," expressed, said Ms. Batoff.

Under the committee's guidelines, an "effective student evaluation" would:

* Reflect the developmental process of children and young adults.

* Respect individual differences of students.

* Allow both students and parents to participate in evaluation.

* Provide frequent feedback.

* Communicate with students and parents in varied ways.

* Employ a variety of assessments.

Schools will be encouraged to hold regular parent-teacher conferences that may also include students. In one pilot elementary program, the teacher, student and parents met this year and put together the student's evaluation after looking at a portfolio of work and talking about performance.

In other business, the school board was expected:

* To approve a request to ask the state superintendent of schools, Nancy A. Grasmick, and the state board of education to waive two days of the school year, to make June 18 the last day of school.

* To approve a variety of personnel changes, as Dr. Berger puts together a reorganized and reportedly streamlined administration that will begin work July 1.

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