Wake County changes elementary school report cards

khui@newsobserver.comNovember 3, 2013 

  • Understanding Wake’s new elementary school report cards

    Wake County is sending home with elementary school students a guide to understanding the new report cards. The guide, along with an informational video and other information, can be found at www.wcpss.net/what-we-teach/curriculum/elem-report-card.html.

Wake County’s report card for elementary school students has received an overhaul, with a new grading scale and so many additional grades being awarded that the district will send parents a guide to understanding the changes.

The majority of families still haven’t received the report cards yet because of problems involving a new statewide computer system. But when they come, families will find that the 3* grade – denoting a mark between 3 and 4 on the scale – has been removed. And instead of one overall grade in subjects such as math and language arts, they’ll also see individual grades for the things student are supposed to learn within that subject.

“We’re happy to provide parents with additional information,” said James Overman, senior director of elementary school programs. “As an elementary school parent, I can look at the report card to see if additional measures are needed at home to help my child.”

The distribution of the new report cards has been delayed because school officials say that some teachers have reported not being able to save their students’ grades in the new state computer system.

The first-quarter report cards for year-round students in tracks 1, 2 and 3 didn’t go out until mid-October. Students on track 4 received their report cards on Friday, a week later than scheduled.

Wake is hoping to begin distributing the report cards for traditional-calendar students, who make up the majority of children in the district, on Nov. 12, more than a week later than originally scheduled.

Aligned with Common Core

Overman said the report cards were modified to align them with the Common Core state standards that were implemented in North Carolina’s public schools in the 2012-13 school year.

For instance, the Common Core says first-grade students are supposed to learn math concepts such as adding and subtracting within 20, measuring length and telling time. Wake’s new report card will list grades for those concepts, called the “big ideas,” along with an overall math grade.

“Anytime we can give more information to parents it’s better,” Overman said.

All these grades will now be given under a four-point system of 1 to 4, with 4 being the highest. Last school year, elementary school students received subject grades based on a five-point scale.

Before 2004, Wake used an A through F letter grading system in elementary schools. But the system was changed that year because school officials said the 1 to 4 system would allow teachers and parents to better know how students were doing on mastering the state curriculum.

Scores on the state’s reading, math and science exams in elementary and middle schools are divided into four levels with Level 3 and Level 4 being passing. A three in the old report card was considered to be demonstrating proficiency.

But so many parents complained that teachers weren’t giving a 4 grade that the district implemented the 3* grade.

Overman said 3* was dropped because it would have been a problem entering that grade in the new state computer system. Plus, he also said the four-point scale was in line with what other districts are using with the Common Core.

Overman also said that students should have multiple opportunities to get a 4 under the Common Core standards.

Concerns about report cards

School board member Jim Martin is concerned about the new report cards.

One of Martin’s concerns is that under the new scale a 4 is now considered to be exemplary with a 3 being proficient, 2 being approaching proficiency and 1 being non-proficient. He said there’s too big a jump to go from proficient to exemplary in just one grade.

Martin is proposing that Wake consider redefining 2 to be proficient.

“I’m not a big fan of this,” Martin said of the report cards. “I don’t support the grading system only having one level above proficiency. I don’t think it’s adequate.”

Martin also worries that the new report cards may be too confusing to parents and that what’s being measured isn’t appropriate. For instance, he questioned the value of giving a science grade in first grade for “pebbles, sand and silt.”

Overman said they’ve mostly received positive parental feedback so far.

But Susan London, a Wake Forest parent of two elementary school students, says after hearing all the hype about the new report cards that she’s underwhelmed by what she’s seen. She said that the big idea grades are the same as what teachers had included in the comment sections of past report cards.

“I’m not really seeing this as new information,” she said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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