High schools slow to adopt standards-based report cards

For many high schools, there’s a reluctance to move to an unfamiliar, nontraditional system.

Those A’s, B’s, C’s, and, yes, even F’s are still coming home on most high school report cards, despite moves to scrap the grading system in favor of one that gives parents more information about a student’s progress.

Numerous elementary schools around the country have moved to so-called standards-based grading and report cards. Many middle schools are on board, as well. But high schools have been much slower to embrace the change.

“It’s a big leap for people,” said Denise Khaalid, assistant principal at South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, S.C.

There’s widespread agreement among educators that the standards-based report cards are more informative than traditional ones, and proponents say they’re more accurate and fairer, too.

“As a parent, my child would come home with a C on a report card, but what does it mean?” said Sally Jo Gilbert de Vargas, the house administrator at Whitman Middle School in Seattle. “Are they not getting their work done, are they not getting A’s on their tests?”

Standards-based grading breaks down the academic subjects into content areas and reports a child’s progress in mastering each of them, sometimes on a 1-to-4 scale or a proficiency scale. Work habits and behavior are usually graded separately. The system allows for different ways to measure whether a student has met the standards, Gilbert de Vargas said.

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“Everything doesn’t ride on one test score,” said Susan Olezene, director for student achievement, curriculum and professional learning for the Aurora Public Schools in Colorado. “There should be multiple opportunities for students to show what they know and are able to do in a variety of ways.”

So why the reluctance at the high school level?

At that point, grades count toward graduation or college admissions.

“One of the problems (with standards-based grading) is how do you convert that to the GPA?” asked Henry Duvall, spokesman for the Great City Schools, which represents large school districts around the country.

Robert Bardwell, director of guidance at Monson High School in Massachusetts, said parents need information about their children’s progress no matter what grade they’re in. Some high schools have moved away from the traditional grading, he said, and “students in those schools are going to college somewhere.”

For many high schools, though, there’s a reluctance to move to an unfamiliar, nontraditional system.

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