Making better grades

School district looks for feedback on new report cards

By Sarah Pridgeon

 

Parents across the school district experienced a brand new style of report card at last week’s parent-teacher conferences. In the wake of the trial run, the district hopes that parents will offer suggestions and comments to help this “organic process” improve, says Superintendent Byron Stutzman.

The new report cards feature a full list of the most important skills a child should learn in each subject. Instead of a letter grade as has been used in the past, the marks now show whether a student is advanced, proficient, developing or emerging in each of these skills.

On most traditional report cards, a student will receive a grade for each overall subject, such as for language arts. Now, students will receive these marks for each of the individual skills and knowledge they are responsible for learning and this will change according to grade level.

This gives the teacher, parent and student a lot more information to work with, says the superintendent. The report cards, which are in line with the Wyoming State Standards, are easier to interpret and understand.

“Before, if you got an A, what did that actually mean?” he explains.

“Say, for instance, that the A was a 91 percent. It may have covered five different standards and the student was perfect in all of those standards but one, but you wouldn’t know that – this standards-based grading gives you that delineation.”

The report cards have been implemented in all schools, he says, but are a little different in the high schools because they must still tie to a GPA for graduation.

“It makes for a big report card, but it’s a lot more information for a parent,” Stutzman says.

“It also puts all the standards for that grade level in the teacher’s grade book.”

The report cards provide focus areas for a student to work on. For example, the report card might reveal that the child is falling behind in the mathematics standard of “tell time to the nearest minute” and the teacher can then look for additional materials to help them progress, using resources such as the newly implemented www.goorulearning.org, which Stutzman also recommends for parents.

“You can pick where they’re deficient and do some remediation there. Or you can pick where they’re advanced and accelerate them there,” says Stutzman.

“It works in both directions and that’s the whole point.”

This is important, he adds, because all students are individuals and learn at a different rate. Each child also has their own comprehension level and style.

“Your struggling students need you to bring the information to their level so that they can grasp at least parts of the concept you’re trying to teach,” he says.

“This even takes it a step further and allows us to individualize the instruction more. The great thing is that we only have a 16-1 student-teacher ratio in this district, so teachers can do just that.”

The report card facilitates a deeper look at the student’s progress, adds Curriculum Director Teresa Brown.

“We’re really dialing it down – I equate it to going to a general doctor versus a specialist. Now, we’re getting into exactly what things mean,” she says.

The change was partly motivated by a recommendation made during the district’s 2012 accreditation review. The district was asked to reconsider its grading policies and procedures and use them more consistently.

“They found that all three sites were grading differently and wanted us to get more congruent with each other. This is the way to fix that part of it,” says the superintendent.

Despite being already in use, Stutzman and Brown are keen to stress that the report cards are not yet finalized. Input from parents is an important part of the process, they say.

“It’s not set in stone, it’s something that we want to get better. If there are things wrong with it, let’s figure out how to make that better,” says the superintendent.

“Ask a lot of questions, give us input – we want to hear that because we want to make it the best we can make it.”

Two suggestions came out of the parent-teacher conferences, says Brown.

“Something we talked about in the admin team and the parents also brought up is that they would like a +/- ,” she says.

This will make it more obvious which direction a student is heading in; whether they are moving forwards from advanced to proficiency, for example, or slipping from advanced to developing.

The second suggestion is related to the “Four Cs”: collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. These came from business and highlight the skills that students should have in the workplace, explains Brown.

“That’s where the work ethic piece is in 21st century learning and that needs to be spelled out more and defined better so the parents recognize it [on the report card],” she says.

“Those are the two things that came out of this so far and they’re great suggestions that we need to run with.”

The principals of each school are tentatively scheduling meetings to speak with the parents again at a later date to discuss their concerns, she adds, because “this is a very organic project that we need to look at and refine as needed.” The principals of each individual school are in charge of the report cards and comments should be directed their way.

“First and foremost, we want it best for kids. Second, we want it so the parents can understand it and so a parent and a teacher can have a good dialogue on how they can help the teacher enhance the child’s learning,” says Stutzman.

“If we’ve got a team effort there, the student is going to go a lot further. As the student grows, they begin to see that they are moving and start to take ownership of that movement – all of a sudden, they’re running.”