High schools slow to adopt standards-based report cards

“Parents understand what a grade says,” said Deborah Hardy, director of school counseling services at Somers Central School District in New York. “They understand what the final average says. These are fields that colleges have accepted.”

Aurora Public Schools have found a way to do both — giving parents more detailed information about a student’s progress, while providing grades to colleges and universities in the traditional format of GPAs.

Olezene said the school district involved parents from the start and phased in the new grading system, beginning with elementary schools in 2001, middle schools in 2009, and high schools just this past January. The district posted information about standards-based grading on its website, including a video and sample report cards.

“Our students were always being graded with standards in mind,” she said. “However, it’s very intentional when those are used for reporting.”

In the high school, the students’ standards-based grades are translated to the A-B-C-D system. “There is always a concern about fairness and our kids being graded as fairly as students in other districts,” Olezene said.

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For example, an A would be given to a student who “consistently and independently demonstrates proficient and advanced understanding in course concepts and skills in a variety of assessments.” A student who “demonstrates proficiency in course concepts and skills with teacher and peer support” would receive a C.

Other schools have tried sending home progress reports midway between marking periods that are more narrative in nature and detail progress, or lack of it.

Olezene said the trend needs to be toward standards-based reporting.

“I think we absolutely need to move forward in this way because it empowers students to be part of school. It should be relevant to them,” she said. “There’s always room for that conversation with higher ed.”

However they’re reported, grades should be comprehensive and understandable, said James Martinez, spokesman for the National PTA. “Even with the traditional grading system, there is miscommunication,” he said.

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