Report Card Learning Curve

By Becky Herberger | Published March 28, 2014 | The Bolton Independent

When it comes to the 123s and ABCs of the Nashoba Regional School District’s standards-based report cards, there is more than meets the eye.  During an interview, Florence Sawyer School Principal Joel Bates dug into the details and here’s the breakdown.

Background Basics

Report cards incorporate Common Core standards, the Massachusetts Department of Education curriculum and district frameworks, and provide consistent reporting in Bolton, Stow and Lancaster.  Superintendent Michael Wood initiated this concept and set in motion a development process that took two-and-a-half years to complete.  The result was new report cards, parent guides and teacher handbooks by grade level.  Bates views this as a shared effort throughout the district and credits Wood with giving the latitude, time and resources to do this as well as possible.

The district’s standards-based report card pilot for grades one and two launched in fall 2011 and rolled out for grades three to five in fall 2012.  In addition to standards, traditional letter grades were appended to grade five report cards at that time.  The new layout went out to grades six to eight in fall 2013, but only traditional letter grades are being reported at this time as the district fine-tunes the standards at these grade levels.  The standards-based component will be fully implemented for grades six to eight in fall 2014.  Letter grades will continue to be a part of the middle school reporting process.

Common Core Tie-in

The Common Core is a set of standards in English/Language Arts and Mathematics.  Science will be the next subject to enter the Common Core and, according to Bates, this is about a year away.

Reading Your Child’s Report Card

Each academic area is broken down into a group of grade-specific standards.  Parent guides define standards as “written benchmarks for students that explicitly state what the students need to have accomplished by the end of the year.” It’s critical to understand that numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 are not tied to letter grades, Bates explained.  “The number for the standards scale is based on where your child is in that moment but relative to the end-of-year standards.”

In short, the number 1 signifies needing significant help, 2 represents moving closer to an end goal but without consistency and/or accuracy, and 3 is mastery.  “Mastery represents that your child understands a standard in different contexts and multiple times.  This is where we would expect someone to be at the end of the year,” said Bates.

So what about the number 4?  Although possible for some students, getting a 4 is uncommon.  The number 4 not only indicates that a child is above grade level for the end of the year, but also means he/she has an in-depth understanding of that content area.   If parent or students have the impression that they will see a lot of 4s on a report card, they are setting up false expectations.  A 3 is where a student is supposed to be end of year.  Bates clearly stated, “3 is not a B, it is mastery.”

Pluses and minuses indicate whether a child is on track or not.  In the first two trimesters, Bates suggests focusing more on the pluses and minuses than the numbers.  A plus indicates that a student is on target at a point in time.  If there are minuses, Bates suggests talking to the teacher to determine why a child is not on track and what the plan is to get him/her up to speed.

Parent and Teacher Feedback

The district sent out parent surveys by grade level before and after report card implementation.  Parents of students in grades six to eight will receive a post-implementation survey after those report cards are being used in their full capacity.  Bates also personally conducted six different parent forums and said the feedback was “pretty positive.”

Bates explained that teacher feedback is ongoing and has been integral as report cards evolve.  Teachers are constantly working together on the calibration of the standards across a grade level.

Sharing Report Cards with Your Child

Report cards provide parents with more information than has previously been available.  When asked about the best way to share report cards with a child, Bates explained, “For them to be optimally effective, they should prompt conversations between parent, student and teacher. I think the tool can be used for this purpose as long as everybody understands [the reporting process].”

Getting More Information

For more information, Bates recommends that parents talk to the teacher.  Teachers can offer further understanding through discussion and by sharing a range of ongoing assessments.

Information can also be found online at NRSD.net under “Useful Links,” then “Nashoba Regional Report Card Information.” There you will find podcast presentations, report card samples, parent guides, links to the Common Core Initiative and MDOE, and other useful tools.

When All is Said and Done

There is a learning curve for this new way of reporting, but as education evolves, so do report cards.  Along with the work of the school district administrators and staff, parent feedback is a part of the process.  Bates said, “NRSD has always been, in both perception and reality, a very progressive school district and it’s very clear any time you talk to Michael [Wood] that he wants to find ways to improve.”