County revising report cards Schools would use two evaluations under latest proposal

September 06, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County elementary school pupils likely will be bringing home new report cards this fall -- and their parents might even be able to understand what the letter grades and symbols mean.

Joining a national trend to simplify report cards, Baltimore County educators will present their latest effort to the school board Tuesdaynight. If approved, the cards would be used throughout the school system when elementary pupils receive their fall grades Nov. 23.

"The report card is the main thing we have to communicate with parents," said Angela Leitzer, a teacher at Middleborough Elementary School. "If we aren't communicating, then we aren't doing our job."

With the introduction of the report cards, Baltimore County would become the latest area suburban school system to try to simplify the way it tells parents how their children are doing.

For example, Carroll County educators last year concluded a four-year struggle to revise their elementary school report cards. Two years ago, Anne Arundel County educators dropped letter grades for first- and second-graders.

And in 1996, the Howard County school board twice rejected proposed new report cards as too complicated for parents.

In Baltimore County over the past few years, elementary schools have had the freedom to issue report cards in whatever form they wanted.

Complaints from parents about the report cards included a lack of consistency among neighboring schools and frequent confusion over what the educational jargon meant about their children.

The proposals to be put before the Baltimore County school board call for letter grades to begin in third grade -- about the same as in most area school systems.

First- and second-graders would receive a report card that assesses their skill levels as "independent," "progressing" or "emergent."

The proposed report cards were developed over the past six months by a committee of 40 teachers, parents, principals and administrators, who were charged by the superintendent with making terminology and grades clearer for parents.

The report card has taken on greater significance in the 1990s with the growing number of single-parent families and families in which both parents work, said Carl Alexander, who represents the Randallstown area on the county's PTA Council.

"These days, the opportunities for the conference during the school day is farther apart," Alexander said. "The report card has become the primary tool of communication between the parents and the teachers."

Committee members said they reviewed more than 100 types of report cards in putting together two standard versions for the county -- an attempt to provide consistency among the county's 101 elementary schools.

"Teachers are very receptive to it because they, too, want standardization," said Terri Filbert, principal of Pine Grove Elementary School. "Sometimes, when students transfer into our school, the teachers read the previous report cards and aren't really sure what they mean. This will fix that."

The proposed cards are aimed at matching what children are graded on with what they are supposed to be learning in class -- without relying on confusing educational jargon.

"I'm very excited about this report card [proposal] because it is a tremendous improvement," said Joyce DiRienzi, chairwoman of the county PTA Council's elementary curriculum committee. "This will help parents know about how their kids are doing in school."

For example, on reading, children would be judged on how well they "decode unknown words" and "identify sight words."

"The staff appreciates that the report card is in alignment with the essential curriculum," said Pinewood Elementary School Principal Dena Love. "They think it's very positive to give third-graders letter grades because third grade is more in line with the intermediate level."

At a PTA Council meeting last week, some parents pointed to areas that appear to be too complicated -- such as the portion on the first-grade report card that asks how well children "analyze and interpret works of art to create visual compositions."

School officials acknowledge that it is risky to put an untested report card in place this school year, just a few months after it is introduced to teachers -- and they expect to continue making changes throughout the school year.

Definitions still have to be drawn up for teachers as to what represents "on, above and below grade level" for reading and math, said Julie Szymaszek, director of elementary schools in the county's northeastern area.

"This is a work in progress," she said. "Hopefully, we'll have everything fixed by the 1999-2000 school year."

And school officials, acknowledging that area school systems regularly revisit report cards and grades, don't expect that their latest proposals will last forever.

"Every school system seems to think that every few years it needs to redo its report cards," said Ronald S. Thomas, assistant to the superintendent for educational accountability.

"Report cards are just that way, and we expect this one will be changed eventually, too."

Pub Date: 9/06/98

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