Sandwich Schools May Drop Letter Grades For Younger Students

Sandwich school officials are considering a move away from traditional report cards for students in elementary school grades.

Rather than grading students with the traditional A, B, C, D, and Fs, a group of administrators tasked with investigating the move say the new report cards would better represent how well a student is mastering a subject.

“The traditional report card with letter grades A through F compares each child’s progress in a class to each other. But we want to show, in a parent-friendly way, what the curriculum standard is, and whether the student has acquired the skills and knowledge necessary to master the subject in a specific period of time,” said Marc J. Smith, principal of the Henry T. Wing. Mr. Smith is part of a group that has been looking into the change to the report cards.  

The group made its first presentation to the Sandwich School Committee Wednesday evening.

 In explaining the benefit of the switch, Mr. Smith presented an example to the school committee. “If you have a class full of brilliant overachievers and use the traditional report card model, only the the top performing student will get an A, and the rest of the class will get a lower grade by comparison,” he said. “So how does that fairly represent the rest of the brilliant overachievers?”

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The emphasis of a standards-based report card is to compare an individual student’s progress against curriculum standards. Mr. Smith said.

The group looking at the change currently consists of the three K-8 school principals and the three curriculum coordinators for the district. Parents will be invited to join the group in January.

The group has been investigating other schools that have converted report card system to the standards-based model. The Lexington, Massachusetts, school system was used as an example several times in the meeting last night. Feedback from all staff who will be affected by this switch is being solicited.

“The standards-based report card gives more specific and meaningful feedback that helps a parent understand student progress and helps the student’s overall growth in a subject,” said Patricia Hill, the district’s science curriculum coordinator.

To accommodate this new way of reporting student progress, the schools would need to move from a quarterly reporting system to a trimester one. This would have report cards coming home in December, March and June, and each would represent 60 days of school. Because report card dates would change, the traditional dates of parent/teacher conferences might also need to change.

As the school committee members heard more about the standards-based reporting system, two members applauded the change.

Marie A. Kangas said that teachers would be assessing students in a more objective way across the board rather than using their own subjective criteria to assess progress.

“This will provide a more consistent way to measure students from school to school and this will be so beneficial for the teachers who greet them [in 7th grade] to accurately see the same kind of reporting. I feel that this kind of consistency is very important,” Ms. Kangas said.

Committee member Travis Andrade also cheered the idea. “I have been trying to stress to students that they should not define themselves by a letter,” he said. “They are so much more than a letter label. A student can work very hard to study and learn but still only get a C on a test and will be afraid to bring that C home and discuss that with their parents. This system helps to show them and their parents the effort that went into the child’s learning experience.”

Showing what kind of a learner, what level of independence and growth the student achieved will all be the types of characteristics leading to performance, that a parent would expect to see with this new reporting system, Mr. Smith said. “Separating the categories that lead to a grade is important feedback for parents,” he added.

The group will be making more presentations in the coming year about the proposed change. The school committee does not have to vote its approval on any changes to report cards, Superintendent C. Richard Canfield said.

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