We all remember bringing home report cards either excited or embarrassed of the letter grades of A, B, C, D or F. Some report cards from schools had a more in-depth explanation of behavior and plans for improvement. Did a letter grade really encapsulate how well you really did in the class? Some schools are changing. Is this a new movement? Are the letter grades really fading away? It is so for elementary-age children in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Jerry Wheeler, principal at Heights and High Rolls elementary… (Elise Haley/For the Daily News)
No longer do elementary-age children bring home report cards with A to F grades based on basic averages of performance in the classroom.
As part of a nationwide push to bring elementary school students onto a level playing field, Alamogordo Public Schools have moved to a report card system wholly different than any other.
APS has adopted common core standards as they currently are being determined for the state by the New Mexico Public Education Department.
“How do we make standards-based report cards?” APS Superintendent Dr. George Straface asked Monday during an informational meeting held at Yucca Elementary School. “It’s common sense.”
Straface said the report card needs to define what they want the children to do in school; see if it was done; define what will be done if the goals are not reached; and help the teachers find ways to get the work done.
Heights/High Rolls principal Jerry Wheeler talked about the beginnings of the new system.
Previously, he said, schools relied on a traditional A through F system. Then, in 2001, No Child Left Behind legislation had states and school systems looking at accountability and the system moved to being based on standards and benchmarks as determined by individual states. Now those standards and benchmarks are being adapted into common core standards as accepted across the United States.
The new system, Wheeler said, looks for patterns, not averages, to determine an individual child’s progress.
He explained that?performance levels are defined as: 1) “emerging,” in which the student is having difficulty meeting grade level standards; 2) “nearing proficient,” in which the student is approaching grade-level standards; 3) “proficient,” in which the student consistently meets grade level expectations; and 4) “advanced,” in which the student consistently extends concepts and skills above proficient levels.
“This provides a way for us to be more accountable,” Wheeler said. “It provides feedback and incentive for our students.”
Using a math example, Wheeler said previously a parent might see a B on a student’s report card and say “good job.” But now math is broken up into four categories, and while that child may be doing exceptionally well in three of those categories, they may be failing to get the fourth. With the new system, he said, those problems are more easily identified and that child will be helped with what they are missing.
“Understanding the student’s progress can pinpoint helping strategies,” one of the teachers on the panel said.
Opening the floor to questions, moderator Adrienne Salas, APS executive director of schools, invited parents to speak.
Several parents talked about the difficulty with distinction in the new system. It’s unfair, they said, that a student who under the old system would be getting an “A” and excelling at school is ranked essentially the same as students who are basically just getting by. Both would be placed in the “proficient” category.
“Keep sending (the new report cards) home,” said parent Diana Martwick. “We won’t read them. There is no incentive for the students to excel. It’s disheartening”
Salas asked the teachers on the panel about the strengths they see in the new system. Several of the teachers said they appreciate having clear guidelines to determine where a student is and what they can do to make their students strong in every area.
North Elementary School principal Sandra Hoyt compared the new system to asking the student to make their bed in the morning.
“If you ask your child to make his bed in the morning, you have certain standards you expect from him,” she said.
If the child makes the bed well, flat and tucked in properly, that would be “proficient.” If he has obviously made an effort, maybe threw the blankets on a bit crooked, didn’t tuck them firmly, that might be “nearing proficient.” Then, if he just tossed things around a little, that might be considered “emerging.”
But to be “advanced,” Hoyt said, maybe the child made the rest of the beds in the house or started the sheets in the laundry. He would have to go above and beyond expectations.
Parents at the meeting pointed out that teachers don’t always offer opportunities for students to be able to “exceed proficiency.”
One parent stood up to say that she has twins in different classes and she doesn’t see consistency in their grading. One comes home with a 3 (proficient) when the other comes home with a 2 (nearing proficient) for the same work.
“If this was a good system, it would be the same across the board,” she said. “There is no consistency. Why is this implemented when we have so many, ‘I don’t know yet’ answers?”
Holloman Elementary School Principal Michelle Korbakes said a system can’t be ironed out unless it is implemented.
“You have to use it in order to know what needs to be worked on,” she said.
Another parent stood up.
“You broke a system that worked,” he said.
Contact Elva K. ?sterreich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/echoofthedesert.