Friday, June 08, 2012

EDITORIAL >> No more A students

Remember report card day?

If the grades were good, it was a dash home to collect the rewards for that A, that B and in some cases even a C got a pat on the back. But if the grades were bad, the question became how to hide the report card and not talk about it in hopes parents wouldn’t remember — at least until a best friend came to the house and bragged about his grades in front of your parents.

Oh, yes the good old days.

Yes, the good old days because in the near future those A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s and F’s might no longer be on report cards.

The Pulaski County Special School District wants to do away with traditional letter grades on report cards, and North Little Rock officials brought up the idea at a recent staff development meeting.

For years, anxiety and ambition have hung on the letters, but educators now say that system is imprecise and does little to reflect a student’s progress, especially in the early years of schooling.

PCSSD officials say the letter grade doesn’t really tell the parent anything and in some area high schools leads to grade inflation rates triple or quadruple acceptable levels.

“This will be a huge change of culture. Letter grades have predominated for a long time, but they’ve rarely been well-defined. It’s time for this new approach,” explained PCSSD’s Dr. Linda Remele, deputy superintendent for learning services.

Educators say the shift toward the new report card is substantive. But it also sends a message to parents that in key developmental years, a report card should mark more than the threshold between success and failure in basic subject areas. They say it should also highlight the wide range of skills a student — whether identified as remedial or gifted — will need to succeed beyond elementary school.

The latest proposal marks a significant departure from traditional report cards, which often measure a student’s achievement relative to the rest of the class and do little to break down strengths and weaknesses within a given subject area.

Plans in PCSSD call for the single-sheet report card to go to a multi-page report, breaking core subjects like reading, language, writing and math into a dozen or more skill sets or objectives and giving students a numerical score for each of those objectives.

A four would mean the student is above grade level, a three means the child is on grade level and a two is politely referred to as “approaching grade level.” A one bluntly means the student just isn’t getting it yet.

By breaking the core subjects down a parent can really see where a student is doing well and where help is needed.

Students may get a four in fluency, but a two in comprehension, meaning they can pronounce words like those little kids on the phonics commercials, but don’t understand much of what they’re pronouncing. That’s more pertinent than that A if a lot of grades were taken in oral reading or a C if the grades were based on responding to the reading.

The new approach is an attempt to incorporate instructional standards crafted in recent years by local and state agencies into the grading process, focusing on a student’s development in dozens of detailed skill areas.

“The approach doesn’t make the student smarter, but it makes the teacher better,” said Sam Meisels, who is one of the pioneers of the narrative report card which is being modeled throughout the country. “A letter grade is a short-lived triumph. It doesn’t tell us what we need to know about a student’s progress.”

The idea of dropping letter grades is not new and numerous school districts across the country are experimenting with the idea. Some are going with no grades or competitive details at all to make sure children are not put down or put on a pedestal.

Most of these experiments have failed as both children and parents need some information—the more the better—and no matter the format, some students and parents will get competitive about it. That’s human nature.

The problem will not be convincing the kids that this is the way to go, but the parents who had to face the music with their parents on report card day. Plus parents will have to go from bumper stickers saying they have an A student to a complete vehicle wrap around citing all the areas the child does well in.