Outside Harry Dewey Fundamental Elementary School in Fair Oaks, Amanda Christensen recalled the first time she saw the detailed report card for her three children.
“At first it was very complicated,” Christensen said. “You see all these new things and you don’t understand quite what they mean.”
Case in point: Her kids are now graded on their level of grit.
“What does my child have to do to get a grade in that?” she wondered.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
Across the state, report cards are undergoing a sea change in how students are measured for academic performance. Where teachers once graded students on traditional math or English skills, they now judge attributes such as grit, gratitude or being sensitive to others.
Districts are changing their report cards to reflect the new Common Core State Standards, which are intended to move students away from rote learning and memorization. Rather, critical thinking and analysis geared toward deeper understanding of academic subjects are the goals.
In English language arts, third-grade teachers evaluate students in at least a half-dozen areas including complexity of text, story structure, types of writing and presentation of knowledge. In math, teachers grade for algebraic thinking, problem solving and geometric measurement, among other categories.
For those traditional academic subjects, teachers grade students on a 1-to-4 scale. But when it comes to attributes such as grit or being sensitive to others, they give students one of four marks: A for almost always, O for often, S for sometimes and R for rarely.
The first report cards went home in November at 11 elementary schools in the district; full implementation is scheduled for the fall.
Other districts have been drafting new report cards, too, with faculty and parent involvement. The Sacramento City Unified School District this year is testing them at all elementary schools in the district.
Sacramento City Unified’s new report cards incorporate the district’s social and emotional learning philosophy by measuring “behaviors that support learning,” such as whether a student “makes respectful choices and considers the well-being of others,” using a scale that runs from “outstanding” to “needs improvement.”
And at Folsom Cordova Unified, which began using redesigned report cards last year, teachers grade on a similar scale whether a student is respectful with adults and peers and accepts responsibility for actions as part of “lifelong learning skills.”
“Common Core in general is a terrifying thing,” said Christensen, who serves as treasurer of the parent-faculty organization at Dewey. “I didn’t understand it and I thought it was going to be a whole new way of learning and my children would miss out on what I learned as a kid – they wouldn’t get the same education I would have liked for them.
“Now I see that it’s more centered on individual children” and tailored to meet their needs, she said.
The report card also provides better detail on math and reading, she said.
“It gives you a better understanding of how your child is developing in each of those areas,” Christensen said.
Dianne Tully, president of the parent-teacher organization at Del Dayo Elementary School, said measuring characteristics for success will be far more useful than the marks for “citizenship” that were mainstays in generations past. Del Dayo is a San Juan Unified school testing the report cards.
“Before, it was a general grade on citizenship,” Tully said. “Here, if you know they’re getting high marks for grit and perseverance but not gratitude, as a parent you’re getting better information.”
Elementary school report cards in recent years have grown more sophisticated than decades-old versions that parents and grandparents might remember, measuring students on dozens of specific skills rather than a few basic categories.
But until recently, they didn’t measure the attributes that are crucial for Common Core learning, said Lynda Winje, a third-grade teacher at Dewey.
In a critical literacy lesson on Thursday, Winje read aloud a book about a boy who had to work through his feelings after his new baby sister arrived home and became the instant center of attention. She gently encouraged her students to read between the lines to understand and describe the character’s feelings, which were expressed in the book more through action than dialogue.
“I think maybe he thought no one loved him,” one student offered.
Winje said the new report cards take time to complete. But, she said, that’s also been the case in past years.
“They take a while because you have a lot of different areas to look at,” she said.
It will take time to develop a good understanding for grit and perseverance and how to measure those qualities for different grade levels, she said.
Amy Slavensky, director of early elementary education for the San Juan district, said that under previous standards, kindergartners were expected to read one line of text per page with strong support from the pictures.
Under Common Core standards, students finishing kindergarten at Dewey and throughout the school district should be able to read multiple lines of text per page with less picture support, Slavensky said.
“The expectation is a lot higher than it used to be,” she said.
Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.
San Juan Unified’s new report cards
The suburban Sacramento district is testing report cards at 11 elementary schools.
▪ In language arts, teachers grade for reading, writing, listening and speaking. The grades are 4 to 1, with 4 being most advanced.
▪ In math, categories include algebraic thinking, measurement, data and geometry.
▪ Accompanying each overall mark is an assessment of progress: E for exceeding expectations, M for meeting them, or L for limited progress.
Source: San Juan Unified School District