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Upgraded report cards for upgraded learning

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In San Francisco public schools, traditional report cards are a thing of the past. Parents now receive simpler, well-rounded information about students, and the reports are also available in additional languages. (Courtesy photo)

It may have been awhile since you looked at an elementary school report card. This week, thousands of children and their parents will be looking at theirs and seeing some changes. Here’s why:

Year-round learning: We aim to teach students in the San Francisco Unified School District a lot of important things and with our move to Common Core State Standards, new computerized testing and the host of new ways we monitor our students’ progress, well, our old report card format just wasn’t keeping up.

We no longer “grade” elementary students at the end of each semester. Instead, students earn marks that show how well they are progressing toward the end-of-year goals. Students who have mastered a skill will earn a score of 3 or higher. So, if a child has a 1 or 2 on something on a fall report card, that just means they are moving toward mastery and chances are the teacher is still teaching that standard.

We listen: Starting a few years ago, we gathered feedback from a diverse group of families and teachers and began redesigning the elementary report card (from transitional kindergarten through fifth grade). We asked what would help make the reports easier to understand, especially for families who don’t speak or read English.

Easier to read: There were some easy things to fix. We increased the text size to make it easier to read. We also eliminated some text that was repetitive. And we printed the report cards in Arabic, Tagalog and Vietnamese to serve those growing populations in our schools.

Less is more: We heard that the number of items covered, especially in math, were a little much for parents to take in. So we pared them down to the most essential ones they need to know about.

Plays well with others: We teach social and emotional skills in our schools, so it makes sense to report to parents how well their children doing in that area. We focus on four areas: Social Awareness, Self-Management, Growth Mindset and Self-Efficacy.

Artists and athletes, too: For a long time, we have graded students in the arts based on simply making an effort. Now, our reports more specifically describe how well students are developing their abilities in visual art, creative movement and music.

Previously, the Physical Education section of the reports were unclear. Our report cards now list specific goals for each grade level. For example, in the fifth grade, students must show they can do things like pass a ball from the chest level and set short- and long-term fitness goals for themselves.

Preparing our students: We want our students to create a deep educational foundation that enables them to explore their options in a variety of fields and interests. Our new report cards now show their progress toward mastery of the skills required for 21st-century success.

Myong Leigh is interim superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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