Board to vote on forsaking letter grades County may follow trend for kindergarten through second grade

Descriptive report cards

Some parents object, but experts say grades deter pupils' progress

June 19, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

If you have a bumper sticker touting your A-student in the first grade, prepare to peel it off for one that says your child is "consistently demonstrating."

The county school board will vote tonight on whether to abandon letter grades for kindergartners through second-graders in favor of an expanded report card that describes students as "consistently demonstrating," "developing" or needing improvement in an array of skills. The format drops handwriting, spelling and grammar in favor of the broader category of "writes effectively."

The switch would make Anne Arundel one of the last counties in Maryland to forsake letter grades for children in primary grades for an evaluation that mirrors curriculum changes forced by the Maryland School Performance program.

Carroll County rates skills as "outstanding," "satisfactory" or "needs improvement," while Baltimore County uses a combination of number grades and "outstanding," "satisfactory" and "needs improvement" ratings.

Howard County dropped its numerical ratings in 1993 for a series of dots, Xs and slashes that were rated a failure last winter. Officials there hope to have a new primary grade report card by 1997.

Anne Arundel's new format has been fairly well received by parents in the several dozen schools where it has been tested over the past two years.

Three-quarters of the parents who returned surveys said they liked it, school officials said.

Kim Esterson, whose daughter is in second grade at Windsor Farm Elementary on Broad Neck Road, gave the new card a "consistently demonstrating" for its breakdown of what her second-grader is learning and its precision in pointing out skills youngsters should master.

"You can have a child who does wonderful in reading, but doesn't really comprehend," she said. "It gives more information."

But many parents are giving it an F, saying it is too vague.

" 'Developing' doesn't tell me anything," complained South Shore parent Ruth Edmonds.

"Where in it does it say that they get it?" said Carolyn Roeding, former county PTA president. " 'Consistently demonstrates' doesn't tell you squat."

The change in format is part of a national trend. Experts say that letter grades invite comparisons that make poor students feel bad about their first attempts in school.

Nevertheless, parents who have been testing the format say it doesn't take an A student to figure out that it is better to have all the checks under "consistently demonstrating" than under the "needs improvement" column.

It does require, however, parent-teacher conferences to explain it, to show portfolios and writing samples that go along with it, said Mary Dunlap, a Shipley's Choice fourth-grade teacher who helped develop it.

John Kurpjuweit, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, expressed doubts about the language in it, especially the kindergarten assessment.

"There is an awful lot of educationalese in here," he said. "Do you know what 'manipulatives' are? How about 'seriates objects?' Do you think all parents would understand that? I'm not sure, and I taught math."

Explanations come at the conferences. Kindergarten parents have two a year. First and second grades have only a fall conference, but the committee that developed the new report card favors adding spring conferences.

The school board will meet at 7: 30 p.m. at the Board of Education building on Riva Road in Annapolis.

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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