A report card, not a 'grade card' Anne Arundel County: Replacing letter grades for young students makes sense.

June 25, 1996

THE DECISION by the Anne Arundel County Board of Education to drop letter grades in report cards for students from kindergarten through second grade was a change for the better.

Some parents may have difficulty adjusting, but they will eventually find that the proposed descriptions of their children's school work are a great deal more useful than mere letters in evaluating their children's academic performance. A number of parents questioned the board's decision, saying that replacing letter grades was nothing more than an artificial scheme to pump up self-esteem.

One parent told the board that letter grades promoted "competition," a value necessary to survive in this society. But the board correctly decided that clinging to letter grades merely to serve adult notions of competition would do a disservice to the county's youngest pupils.

A report card is supposed to be just that. It is not a "grade card." The quarterly reports are one way -- and should not be the only way -- of conveying to parents information about their children's academic performance and progress. Until 20 years ago, in fact, Anne Arundel elementary students didn't receive letter grades but teacher comments such as "excellent," "satisfactory" and "needs improvement."

In the lower grades, giving children letter marks is not very meaningful because most them are learning and mastering basic skills.

A "B" in language arts doesn't tell a parent much; it only conveys the message than the child is doing better than average, but not well enough to earn an "A." A report that says a child is good at reading but is having trouble translating the material he or she reads into written sentences will prove much more helpful to parents.

These non-letter grading systems have their pitfalls as well, which Anne Arundel officials must strive to avoid. As The Sun's education columnist Mike Bowler pointed out last week, a number of school systems have resorted to gibberish in reporting student progress to parents. In Las Vegas, for example, children don't fail, they "emerge." Superior students are "extending," while mediocre ones are "developing."

Fortunately, Anne Arundel's pilot project resisted any temptation to resort to such obscurantism.

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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