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Districts Shift to Complex Grading Systems for Youngest Learners

In some school districts across the country, students no longer receive a simple report card that relies on traditional letter grades—A, B, C, D, or F—to describe academic progress.

In fact, striving for straight A's is becoming a thing of the past in these districts, which have dropped traditional letter grades in favor of more complex grading systems that educators say can better gauge student progress. In Florida, for example, 20 elementary schools in Palm Beach County tested report cards based on performance codes instead of traditional letter grades during the past school year, according to the Sun Sentinel. In Virginia's Fairfax County, public elementary schools this year dropped letter grades in favor of a detailed report card using numeric values and more categories to measure progress.

And now change has come to Montgomery County, Md., where my children attend schools. Starting with next month's report cards, parents of children in 1st through 3rd grades will see major changes—including all new letter designations—to the way in which their kids' progress is reported. The new reporting system—which was explained in detail in The Washington Post—was adopted for the county's 132 elementary schools after a pilot program was conducted in 25 schools.

The district says the new standards-based grading and reporting system will better reflect what kids are learning under the county's new elementary school curriculum. Based on the Common Core Standards, the curriculum has been implemented in kindergarten through 3rd grade.

Under the new system, the curriculum's learning standards have been grouped into measurement topics—groups of content and related skills—and the new report cards will reflect progress on those topics, according to the district. Subjects can have multiple measurement topics; for example, social studies is divided into several, including culture, geography and history.

Instead of A's, B's or C's, kids in kindergarten will receive P's, I's and N's (P means a student is meeting grade-level standards; I means the student is in progress to meeting standards and N means the student is not yet making progress or is making minimal progress). Second- and 3rd-graders will receive an additional scoring indicator—ES—which records exceptional work at a grade-level standard. The district stresses that these new scoring indicators don't equate to the old system of A's, B's and C's.

The new, more complex report cards offer even more information about kids' progress in reading. Depending on the grade level, report cards will include graphs or charts detailing how a child is doing. And specific measurement topics for non-English speaking students and scoring indicators are also included.

An additional set of letter combinations reflect students' proficiency in such learning skills as following directions and rules and interacting with classmates; as well as "thinking and academic success skills" such as analysis, synthesis, fluency, originality, and metacognition. Those indicators are DEM for "demonstrating," PRG for "progressing," and N for "not yet evident."

Whether the new system achieves its goal of providing a fullerr picture of a student's progress remains to be seen. While everyone understands what traditional letter grades represent, it's going to take time for parents and students to grasp the new system.

It's hard to imagine, but maybe there will come a day when a kid comes home yelling in excitement about earning straight ES's.

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