D96 committee mulls report card changes

Standards-based assessments a possibility in the future

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

A 16-member committee is reviewing the report cards issued in Riverside Elementary School District 96 to see if any changes should be made. The district could eventually move to a more standards-based report card as some districts, such as Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, have already done.

The committee members are Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction Merryl Brownlow, Ames School Principal Todd Gierman, Hollywood School Principal Kim Hefner and 13 teachers.

"Our goal is that by the end of this year just to identify any opportunities for improving our current report cards so that it better communicates what we're doing," Brownlow said. "If we go further and decide there are revisions that we want to pursue … we will widen the group to include other stakeholders, probably parents and some students. 

"It's going to be a multiyear process. This isn't going to be a six-month thing."

The system has almost been fully phased in District 95, which began a shift to standards-based report cards in 2013. Only eighth-graders still receive letter grades on their report cards, and next year eighth-graders will shift to the standards-based report.

The new report cards indicate if a student has exceeded expectation, has met expectations or if a student is still emerging, said District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski.

"I'm happy to report that we're one of the first districts in a large area that has been able to be successful in getting standards based report cards implemented," he said.

Ryan Evans, the principal at S.E. Gross likes standards based grading, saying it allows for a more in-depth approach to student learning. 

"It allows for teachers to make better decisions for individual students to make sure their potential is maximized," Evans said. "District 95 believes in looking deeper at student growth and this model works well to make sure the Common Core standards are obtained."

Currently, District 96 students in first through third grades do not receive any letter grades. Instead their report cards are broken down into 11 categories, with subgroups in each category. Students are given scores on a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being "not meeting expectations" and 4 being "exceeds expectations."

In grades four and five, students receive letter grades in math, social studies, and science. Students at L.J. Hauser Junior High School receive letter grades in all subjects.

Standards-based grading attempts to measure student learning with respect to outcomes, and progress tends to be measured on a continuum. Often no letter grades are given. Student learning is measures separately from student behavior.

Benefits of standards-based grading, Brownlow told school board members at a recent meeting, include clear expectations for students, consistent measurement of student performance across classrooms, assessments that reflect learning, not work habits, and increased student reflection and ownership of their learning.

Board member Shari Klyber, a former high school teacher who heads the school board's education committee, urged caution in making changes and moving to a standards-based approach.

"This has been implemented in various places in Illinois and not always with success," Klyber said. 

Klyber said eliminating traditional letter grades and be confusing for students and parents and cause difficulties when students transition to high school.

"It can go bad very quickly," Klyber said.

Brownlow emphasized that for now the committee is just examining the current report card and has not made any decision on changes, if any.

"We don't have a preconceived outcome," Brownlow said.

Brownlow said letter grades can coexist with a standards-based approach.

"It doesn't necessarily mean we have to get rid of letter grades," Brownlow said. "We're not looking at making any changes without getting stakeholder feedback. Right now, we're just looking to identify if any changes need to be made [and] what would they be."

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