Two Schools Shift Teaching, Report Card Styles
By Bill Hughes
BENTON, KY; PADUCAH, KY - Two western Kentucky schools have eliminated letter grades, and have moved to a new system of assessing children's progress.
Central Elementary School in Marshall County started the program last year, and after tweaking a few things, has completely moved to a system where parents get a detailed report of their child's mastery of the concepts taught in class. The report doesn't give a letter grade or numeric average, because scores for homework or quizzes don't accumulate. What matters is the assessment by the teacher, and how a child grasps and masters a specific concept, or standard.
Lone Oak Elementary School has been using the system for five years, and Principal Dan Pope says, "I am very much an advocate of the Standard-Based Report Card."
Abby Griffy, Supervisor of Instruction at Marshall County Elementary Schools, said they consulted with Lone Oak while planning the changes at Central, but they have a slightly different method for reporting the progress. The standards they teach, however, are identical.
Kentucky adopted the Common Core Standards last year, which says what students should master by summer vacation, and the goal with this format is to do whatever is needed to ensure those standards are met.
"We don't penalize kids for not knowing information when we first introduce it, or in the middle of it. Ultimately, in the end, when we give summative exams, if the kids can prove that they know the material, have mastered the material on that exam, that's what we count," Griffy said.
This differs from the traditional method in which a teacher used homework or test scores to determine what a child learned, gave them a grade, and then moved to another subject. Griffy says that's not fair to the student.
"It's not a 'gotcha' game anymore, and actually we don't even count homework grades. Kids go home, they do their homework. If they don't know it or understand it, we don't want them to cheat on it. We want them to come back and say, 'Hey, I could get 1, 4, and 5, but I have no idea how to get these other two,' Because the teacher needs to know that."
Griffy says this new approach can build a student's confidence in their teacher instead of fear. Teachers have more responsibility, too. They must now assess their students daily based on individual work in class or at home, and adjust their approach and time management to ensure that everyone grasps what's being taught before moving on.
Pope says flexibility is built into the daily schedule to allow teachers to do this. The entire classroom gets instruction, and then there are opportunities for small groups to work together. If the teacher needs to help a group gain more experience with a concept so they understand it better, that's what happens.
Griffy says teachers use a sports analogy at Central Elementary. A football coach has specific skills he wants each player to do on his team, like making a tackle. If a player isn't tackling with the proper technique, the coach won't let him continue to practice that way, he'll correct it so that when game day comes, everyone on the team can tackle. Some learn the skill quicker than others, but the coach measures success by the game, not the practice.
Report cards give parents an update on how their kids are mastering the standards, and the teachers also give narrative assessments of each child. This way, guardians don't just see an 'A' or a 'C', they have an understanding of what concepts their child mastered, or needs to improve upon.
A seperate section of the report card covers social behavior and "process", how the student managed time, participated in class, followed directions, and completed tasks. These things relate to how the student learns, but are separate from the academic understanding.
Pope says his teachers realized quickly five years ago that teaching and grading this way is more time consuming, but have adapted well.
"My staff is totally committed to the Standard-Based Report Card, and does an absolutely tremendous job of creating report cards and making sure they are accurate assessments of our students," Pope said.
Griffy said they made a concerted effort before and during the school year to keep parents informed as the changes happened, so they would know why it helps their kids, and how it works. Last year, when the first report card went home, parents were able to come to the school that night for parent-teacher conferences, where everything could be explained. Griffy says that will be the case again this year, too.
Pope says that last year they started letting the students lead some of the parent-teacher conferences, and this year almost all of them will be done this way. The children sit with their teacher, and tell their parent or guardian what they've studied, what they've done well, and what they need to improve. If the teacher needs to guide the discussion, they can insert a comment. He says most parents enjoyed it last year, but a few wanted a confidential meeting with the teacher, which is fine. Pope says it helps the whole household take ownership of the child's education.
Griffy sums it up with a motto. "We say this all the time: 'Know what your kids know while they're under your nose,' because that's the only true time that they can determine whether a child mastered it or not," she said.
Pope says some parents were skeptical of the system at first, but some have now said they wish the school board would use this in Middle or High School. Pope isn't sure if the school board will expand this to other schools in the county, but he loves how it's working at Lone Oak Elementary.