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Elementary report cards undergo a transformation

The Newberg School District will roll out a new elementary school report card this fall, and while it represents a major step forward, it promises to be a roller coaster ride for both parents and teachers to navigate.

Although district officials believe the new standards-based format is sure to provide parents with more detailed information about their child’s performance, its focus on year-end proficiency will also be a hard pill for many to swallow. Photo Credit: SUBMITTED - Not your father's report card - The school district will roll out a new elementary school report card this fall that may represent a major step forward.

In the new system, which was developed by a committee of 12 teachers over two years, students will be evaluated on specific skills, especially in language arts and math, based on end-of-year expectations.

A student, for instance, could receive a 2 on the new 4-point academic performance scale, which is explained as “sometimes demonstrates the skill or understands concepts and meets some expectations,” through no fault of their own, for example, because those skills or topic areas will not yet have been covered by that point in the school year.

According to district director of assessment and data services Don Staples, who presented the report cards to the school board last month, this doesn’t mean said student is doing poorly, just that they have a whole semester left to get to the standard.

“It really puts the focus on growth and where we’re trying to get to at the end of the year,” Staples said. “So that semester evaluation is just communicating where we are on the journey and we think that’s the right way to go, but we know it’s going to be a challenge for some folks to understand that.”

Having implemented a similar grading system previously in her career, Superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza pointed out that parents tend to gain an understanding quickly through such conversations with teachers, but that many parents still won’t like seeing a “2” on the report card.

“That 2 number is very much a get-under-my-skin kind of thing,” she said. “That’s where the education has to come in, making sure folks understand this is exactly where they should be in their progression. It’s okay.”

At the same time, Staples believes that the improvements the new format provides are quite worthwhile.

Among the major problems they address are having unique reports for each grade, whereas before students in grades 1-3 were all graded on the same generalized format. Now, the areas of evaluation line up specifically with the common core standards (in math and language arts) so as to provide much more clarity on student ability.

For example, on the old report card for grades 1-3, math was broken down into just three broad categories, concepts, calculations and effort.

The new third grade math evaluation includes eight specific skills and standards, such as “Multiplies whole numbers fluently” and “Uses place value understanding and properties of operations to perform multi-digit arithmetic.”

“There is the opportunity for a lot more communication to parents about areas that students are supposed be learning,” Staples said.

In addition to providing standards that are more easily measured, teachers and administrators worked last winter and over the summer to create standardized rubrics and tools for use across the district and will continue to do so throughout the year. An effort is also ongoing to produce public descriptors or rubrics so that parents will have concrete examples of student work that meets the new standards.

The report cards were piloted by one grade level at each building in the district last year and survey data from parents was also collected.

“It was a constant reminder to keep the language simple, to step out of our education-ease hat, which isn’t always easy for us to do,” Staples said. “These aren’t necessarily examples of perfection. They are works in progress. They could still evolve in future iterations but hopefully not in big ways.”

Assistant superintendent Dave Parker also pointed out that the new aspect about the common core this is year is not the teaching of content — that has been done for three years — but simply more accurate reporting, which is an important distinction for parents.

“It does convey so much more for teachers and for parents,” said board member Mitsi Vondrachek. “I think it’s wonderful where we’re headed.”



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