B-P introducing new report cards

By JAIME STUDD

Recorder News Staff

BROADALBIN --Not a single student in either The Learning Community or the Intermediate School in the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District will receive an "A" in math or English language arts (ELA) this year. On the other hand, not one "F" will be given out either. This year, report cards will instead be filled with dozens of ones, twos, threes and fours.

The district is in the process of transitioning to standards-based report cards and the effort will commence this fall, with students in grades Kindergarten through five bringing home the district's very first report cards featuring a one through four rubric in place of the more traditional "A, B, C, D" grading in both ELA and math.

The move is in response to the statewide shift to a standards-based educational approach and, educators say, is intended to more accurately reflect a child's progress and ability to meet the state standards.

This year, schools across the state will begin aligning their instruction with national Common Core Standards, a reflection of the New York State Department of Education's decision to become one of 48 states which base academic standards on Common Core.

Common Core "standards" are essentially lists of skill within a core subject area that a child is expected to be able to demonstrate upon completion of each grade level.

Broadalbin-Perth Intermediate School Principal Dan Casey, who, along with The Learning Community Principal Teresa LaFountain, was responsible for drafting the new report cards and coordinating their implementation, said the district chose to utilize a one through four rubric as a method of assessing the students ability to meet the standards because it is most reflective of the state's assessment methods.

"Common core really is just standards. They don't give us any direction on how to assess them, but for all these indicators, it's very difficult to come up with a percentage grade, so we give our assessments, we give our assignments, we make our observations, we give our benchmarks and then we determine where children will fall in terms of how well they're meeting this set of expectations," Casey said. "We like this one because we thought it would be a readable way to help parents understand."

"We thought this would make it a more manageable view," he added. "It's not anything new. It's a way to make a large amount of information understandable. Trying to assign and average to each of those indicators would be nearly impossible."

Indicators, Casey explained, are simply multiple layers of a given standard.

For example, on the reports created by Casey and LaFountain, "problem solving" will be one of the academic standards listed under the core subject area of math. The problem solving standard will be further broken down into several indicators, including, "communicates mathematical thinking and reasoning" and "represents mathematical thinking through mathematical processes and manipulative."

For each of those indicators, the student will receive either a one (not demonstrating at this point), two (demonstrates with support), three (demonstrates independently) or a four (demonstrates with mastery.)

Casey said they modeled the new report cards after other, high performing schools that have already implemented the standards-based system.

"Right now, we're focusing solely on English Language Arts and math and essentially what we've done is we've taken indicators directly from our standards and we've put them into our report card. In some cases they are verbatim. In some cases they are pulling a couple different ideas and then combining," Casey said. "We're going to give parents and students an idea of how their child is performing as it relates to specific areas of the common core standards."

"We kind of took the lead from other schools who have done this already. We created our own version of these report cards and they are different in each grade. They might look the same at a glance, but they differ in the specific indicators," he added. "Each grade level has a different set of expectations. They are on a continuum so that each grade gets a little bit more challenging and a little bit more in depth. Basically, you can really see and obvious connection if you're reading through the report card and reading through the standards, you can see how each grade is working towards achieving mastery of these standards."

The timing of the new system is proving troublesome, Casey said, with the new report cards being implemented right along side the common core standards, as well as new, more stringent, student assessments and the onset of rigorous teacher evaluations.

"It's a lot at once and not a lot of transition time. This was all pretty much presented last year," Casey said. "The state is still ironing out a lot of wrinkles in all these systems."

"They've got a pie that's been baked for three-quarters of the time it should have been baked, but they pull it out of the oven anyway. It's on our plate and we're eating it, but it doesn't taste right," he added.

Despite the challenges, Casey said the new report cards will likely be more effective educational tools than the more traditional grading system.

"It will help us drive instruction, for sure, but it's also a big change. I don't want to say that it's going to be easy. This is a change. This is a philosophical shift," Casey said. "It's going to encourage more evaluation of instruction. It's going to facilitate more beneficial conversations with parents to say that: 'These are specifically areas to work on."

"From where I sit, I think it's a very good practice," agreed Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Patrick Michel. "Parents know exactly where their kids are at according to what they should know. A lot of times when you get a B or a D or a C or a 100 or a 30 or a 40 -- I don't know what that means. Compared to what? With a standards-based report card, the standard is the standard. So, if your child gets a 4 or a 3 or a 2, then you kind of got an idea of where they were and you knew what they were striving for."

If implemented correctly, Michel said, standards-based report cards are more likely to give parents the most accurate assessment of their child's academic progress.

According to Michel, Broadalbin-Perth is not the first area district to introduce standards-based report cards and they likely will not be the last.

Greater Amsterdam School District Superintendent Thomas Perillo said his district is well aware of the trend toward the new report cards and hopes to be able to implement a similar transition soon, but added that such a change will likely have to wait until the district has adequately adjusted to the multitude of other policy changes being mandated by the state.

"This is something that we certainly plan on doing and it is something to move toward a standards- based rubric report card and we are very aware of it to align it more with the common core standards based on a more holistic approach. But, we haven't gotten there yet," Perillo said. "With all the other new mandates that have been handed down, we're kind of working on that first, but it certainly is a goal for us for this year."

"It's always difficult going from something that you've had for a numerous amount of years into something completely different," he added.