Report card fails to make the grade School board wants early-elementary evaluations simplified TTC

September 19, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

A proposed new first- and second-grade report card format has been given low marks by the Howard County school board, which means the parents of Howard first- and second-graders will have to decipher dots, slashes and Xs on their children's report cards for at least one more year.

"I can't understand why it has to be so complicated," board member Karen Campbell complained of the latest proposal at last week's school board meeting.

"I overwhelmingly support this report card compared to the other one [now being used] but we need to make it better," she said.

A new report-card format won't be in place until next fall, at the earliest. School officials had hoped to begin trying out a new card this fall in at least a few elementaries.

The board's decision to send back the latest proposed report card for more revisions is the latest turn in a six-year struggle by school officials to find a better report card format for the county's 6,000 first- and second-graders.

In 1990, school officials decided to replace a report card format that asked first- and second-grade teachers to assess pupils' performance in a variety of areas -- including math, oral and written communication, health and art -- on a scale of 1 to 5.

Their revised card -- first used in all county schools during the 1993-94 academic year and still in use -- replaced the numerical scale with a system of dots, slashes and Xs to signify whether students performed tasks independently, with assistance or not at all.

It also included a new section assessing "learning behaviors," including whether students wrote legibly, listened attentively and exercised self-control.

"What I have heard about the [current] report card was universally negative," said board member Stephen Bounds. "I like [the proposed new report card] a whole lot more than the last revision, but I still don't like it."

West Friendship Elementary School PTA President Diane Mikulis agreed: "There's just so much jargon in the current report card that it didn't tell me very much about how my son was doing."

The latest revision replaces the symbols with letters -- "I" represents that students perform tasks independently, and "W" means that pupils perform tasks with assistance.

It also adds grades for effort in certain subject areas and drops a section on assessing writing skills.

Perhaps most important, it also calls for teachers to judge whether students are "at," "above" or "below" grade level in math -- though "below grade level" has been replaced with the euphemism "working toward" grade level.

In a recent survey this year of first-grade parents, the proposed new format received overwhelmingly positive reviews compared with the current report card

But several board members were upset by the lingering confusion over how to mark students' progress in reading.

The proposal calls for teachers to continue to use such terms as "emergent," "early I" and "fluent" to judge pupils' reading skills, rather than saying simply whether they're at grade level. However, in definitions of those terms on the back of the report card, each term appears to correspond to a particular level. For example, the report cards say "Early II reading behaviors are generally demonstrated independently by the end of grade one."

"I don't understand why we need this whole explanation," Campbell said. "Simple is simple."

Bounds agreed: "I'd like to see it simplified."

But Associate Superintendent Sandra Erickson said reading is "not as easily pinpointed for skills as in mathematics."

"Reading is a more developmental process," Erickson said, comparing it to the development of children's ability to talk. The terms "imply a range that show developmental appropriateness."

Another problem that board members had with the latest report card revision is that it increases the number of different grades in various areas that each student would receive each marking period from 37 to 46.

At its meeting, the board did not take any formal action specifying what changes school officials should make to the latest card proposal, other then to send to it back for more work. But school officials promised to make further changes and resubmit it to the board this winter.

"We're moving in the right direction," Bounds said. "But if we've got to [teach] parents [about] the report card, then the card is still too complex."

Pub Date: 9/19/96

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