School districts across California are rewriting elementary school report cards to reflect new learning standards known as the Common Core.
Because the change is not dictated by the state, it's unclear how many schools are switching. But several superintendents in Southern California said they were in the process.
“These are local decisions, that obviously districts should think about as they think about Common Core and new assessments,” said Deborah Sigman, with the California Department of Education.
Long Beach Unified is farther ahead than many others.
The district has for years used a numbered system of 1-4 that represents student's performance from “not proficient” to “advanced proficient.” Those numbers will remain, but the “proficient” language will be replaced with “areas on target” “areas of strength” and “areas of weakness.”
“After having parent conferences in the last couple of weeks, parents still have a hard time understanding the four, three, two, one. Growing up they knew A, B, C, D, F,” said Gina Bonetati, a 5th grade teacher at Prisk Elementary School.
The outgoing report card graded students on five categories and even more subcategories. Language Arts alone had 18 subjects.
The new one may be just as long. But the categories will be different.
Bonetati doesn’t think the new report card language is any easier to understand than the old one.
“Because really what they want to know is, how is my child doing in school, is it above grade level, is it at grade level, are they working below grade level and do I need to work with them,” she said.
And this year, many schools won’t be issuing the number grades.
Instead, the district is allowing teachers to fill in a fourth column that evaluates “effort” toward learning the new Common Core skills that focus on critical thinking and problem solving.
Parent Lori Smith, the mother of fourth and first graders at Prisk Elementary in Long Beach, likes that the school district is only grading effort this trimester. She expects the switch to Common Core to be hard.
“I think it’s a little bit concerning for parents because they want their kids to do well, they’ve been doing well and then all of a sudden, you’re like, my kid just got a one or a two and you start to scramble,” she said.
District officials expect report cards later this year to use the terms “Thorough Understanding & Ability to Apply the Standards,” “Adequate Understanding & Ability to Apply the Standards,” “Partial Understanding & Ability to Apply the Standards,” and “Minimal Understanding & Ability to Apply the Standards.”
Torrance Unified rolled out new report cards this year for kindergarten, first, and second grades.
“We started piloting a standards based report card based on California standards a few years ago" said E. Don Kim, the district's head of elementary schools.
Districts are considering lots of different changes, not just to the categories but to how children are scored.
Lauren Sipelis, head of elementary education at Irvine Unified, said students will be expected to learn lots of different skills.
For kindergarten, she said, "reading" has been replaced with: “With prompting and support retells familiar stories including character, setting, and major events."
Administrators at these and other school districts say they are not changing middle school or high school report cards just yet.
Student report cards were born out of America’s 19th century industrial age. Before then schools were evaluated by public displays of scholarship such as recitations, music performances, and plays.
“Starting with Horace Mann in the 1840s you get reformers who are more interested in thinking about having students think about grades in a longer term,” said University of Maryland education researcher Ethan Hutt.
“They talked about them in terms of like merchant ledgers, so that students would see their progress and it would be marked and they could track it,” he added.