Early-grade report cards found lacking by officials School board OKs the development of better system

January 03, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Howard County school officials have flunked the report card used for first- and second-graders since the fall of 1993 and could adopt a new card within two years.

"Parents want to know how their children are doing and whether they're performing on their grade level or above it or below it," said school board member Stephen Bounds, who has a son in the second grade at Lisbon Elementary School. "This doesn't show it, and it's something I've pushed all along for us to improve."

To do that, the board has approved the development of a new report card for first- and second-graders, which could be tried out in a handful of elementary schools next fall. Board members said they hope to have a new card by 1997-1998.

The effort to create a better report card for Howard's estimated 6,000 first- and second-graders dates back to 1990, when teachers, principals and supervisors first began studying academic literature on grading.

They sought to replace a report card that asked first- and second-grade teachers to assess performance in a variety of areas -- including math, oral and written communication, health and art -- on a scale of 1 to 5.

The revised report card -- used throughout the system for all first- and second-graders in 1993-1994 -- still requires teachers to assess student performance.

However, the card replaced the numerical scale with a system of dots, slashes and "X's" to signify if students perform tasks independently, with assistance or not at all.

It included a new section assessing learning behaviors, including whether students write legibly, listen attentively and exercise self-control.

Older students continue to get grades in a variety of formats, including letter grades.

"The report card was revised to make it more appropriate at the primary level and to accommodate a shift in reporting progress in reading and writing," said a report recently presented to the school board. "The report card for grades one and two focuses reporting on developmental growth in language arts rather than performance for a specific grade."

The school system tried the revised report cards for two years in several schools before using it system-wide. Orientations were held to show teachers how to use the card and to explain to parents what it would mean.

But less than two years later, school officials ordered a re-evaluation of the report card -- and the response generally was negative.

While parents liked the addition of a section on learning behaviors and the elimination of a numerical assessment system, they "thought the report card is vague and does not communicate how their child is doing in school in a concrete way," the report said.

Those reading the cards also "question what the information on the card means rather than getting information from the card," the report added.

"Findings indicate that the report card is not an adequate communication tool," the report concluded. "It does not communicate to readers [parents and others] the progress that a student is making in school.

Howard is not the first area school system to struggle with ways to evaluate first- and second-graders.

After much debate, Baltimore County adopted a grading policy in 1993 that "discourages traditional letter grades" in kindergarten through third grade. Instead, schools are encouraged to rate student skills on a scale of 1 to 4. Learning behaviors are rated "outstanding," "satisfactory" or "needing improvement."

In Carroll County, the school system gave up traditional letter grades for first- and second-graders years ago, rating students' skills "outstanding," "satisfactory" or "needs improvement."

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