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Decoding Standards-Based Report Cards

Every school year I hear from families who are having trouble interpreting a child's report card. Naturally, parents and guardians want a yardstick for their children's progress and worry when they can't discern what measurements mean.

When reading a standards-based report card, it is important to throw out comparisons to letter grades. There is no “A” equivalent. A good grade is one that indicates a student is making expected progress toward meeting grade-level expectations. In Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, a “P” mark means that a student is demonstrating proficiency. In DC public schools a score of 3 means that a student is meeting expectations for the grade level. In Fairfax County, Virginia a score of 3 means that a student is usually demonstrating a skill with limited support and making few major errors.

In several local public school districts, the highest marks are reserved for students who are achieving more than what is expected for their grade level. Such a level of performance is not typical. In reading local school districts’ descriptions of their highest marks, words like “exceptional” and “superior” stand out. If most students were consistently performing at such a high level, then it would be an indication that the goalpost for grade-level standards should probably be moved in order to create greater challenge.

As learning is a continuum, grades that indicate a student is not yet proficient are not necessarily cause for alarm. Some students accelerate from never having practiced a skill to complete capability and independence very quickly, while other students need more time. Even students who are developing more slowly may be on target to achieve proficiency by the next marking period or the end of the year. In fact, I have known bright, capable students who have received not-yet-proficient marks in one or more skill areas in a marking period. If anything seems surprising or concerning on your child's report card, his teacher will usually be able to provide more information about his work and progress.

The links below will take you to resources published by some of the Washington, DC-area public school systems that are using standards-based report cards. These documents provide explanations of each district’s grading system. Some school districts also explain their reasons for switching to standards-based reporting and its advantages.


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