'Progress reports' replace outmoded school report cards More information, but parents need a user manual

November 16, 1998|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Report cards were issued at Manchester Elementary School last week, but the user manual was not enclosed.

This is the time of year when schools in the Baltimore area are sending home first-quarter report cards, which are following a trend of providing more information in a checklist of specific skills.

But parents aren't always sure what it means -- and they're not sure what to tell the grandparents when they ask about grades.

"I have a problem getting a progress report that requires a separate manual to understand it," said Grace Angle, who has three children at Manchester in Carroll County. "Once you use the manual to look at each topic, it helps you to understand it, but that's a lot of time."

Baltimore County elementary schools will release report cards Nov. 23 that are being revised to convey more information. Educators say the new cards are a work in progress and are an attempt at a more parent-friendly, less jargon-filled report.

As in the past, letter grades usually don't start until third or fourth grade for area school systems.

The new, expanded report cards being tried at Manchester and several other Carroll County schools over the past three years aren't called report cards anymore -- they're called "progress reports."

The pilot reports in Carroll include a manual that explains what it means when a child is described as "emergent" or "developing." The manual won't be distributed until parent-teacher conferences in two weeks, although some parents might have one from last year.

Instead of marking whether a child is reading at grade level, teachers mark the child's stage in that grade level -- initial, emergent, transitional and developing.

"To me, the best indicator of how my children are doing in school is direct contact with the teacher," Angle said. "I'm fortunate that I can be in the school a lot and drop in and talk with the teacher."

Angle is PTA president but stressed that her opinions are personal. The PTA doesn't take a stand on the report cards, but made time for an explanation of the new cards at the regular meeting Wednesday night.

The standard elementary report card used by the rest of the Carroll schools is older than some of the teachers. It has remained virtually unchanged for more than 26 years.

Teachers have been calling for a change since the curriculum was refined about six years ago. They said the standard report cards don't reflect the curriculum.

The old cards have a space for a spelling grade that is based on how well a student does on spelling tests and spelling assignments. The new cards ask the teacher whether the student applies the rules of spelling in all of his or her work.

The new cards also come with a 20- to 30-minute parent-teacher conference this month. The conferences will be twice as long as those in schools that are using the old report card.

Carroll County parents have been surveyed at least twice on the pilot card for grades one and two and favor it by a margin of at least 3 to 1.

On the question of whether the report "clearly shows my child's progress," 72 parents strongly agreed, 230 agreed, 51 disagreed, eight strongly disagreed, and 20 had no opinion.

Parents overwhelmingly preferred the 30-minute conference with the teacher in November.

Pub Date: 11/16/98

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