Middle School Standards-Based Report Cards
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why is San Mateo-Foster City School District doing a middle school standards-based report card?
School Districts around the state have been implementing standards-based systems over the past six to eight years as a result of the State requiring standards-based education throughout California. Responding to these mandates, the San Mateo-Foster City School District’s Strategic Plan identified as an important goal developing and implementing a standards-based system. San Mateo-Foster City School District has successfully implemented over the last six years standards-based curriculum, instruction, and assessments, and two years ago standards-based reporting was implemented at the elementary level. Per the Strategic Plan, the San Mateo-Foster City School District continued this process by implementing a middle school standards-based report card at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year.
An additional reason for standards-based reporting, perhaps the most important, is that it provides much clearer and more specific information about student achievement, work habits and behavior to parents and students.
Why is the report card changing from an A-F system to a 4, 3, 2, 1 marking system?
There are a variety of reasons for the change, but the most important is what the symbols represent. The traditional A-F system contains generations of meaning and embedded judgment, some of which are based upon what a student actually knows, but much of which has nothing to do with mastery of the standards. In the A-F grading system, mastery of the standards is mixed with behavior, work habits, attitude, punctuality, and many other factors. The letter grade doesn’t give the type of specific information that can be supplied by a mark indicating mastery of the standards.
Parents have heard that teachers can’t give 4’s. Why have a rubric mark that can’t be used?
This is one of the biggest shifts in thinking when you transition from a traditional grading system to a standards-based reporting system. In the traditional system, we were taught to always go for the highest grade, the “A.” In a standards-based reporting system, the target is mastery of the standard. That is indicated by a “3” in the rubric. Therefore, a “3” is going to be the most common mark because if students are mastering the standards, that is the mark that they will get. A “4,” however, needs to be available so that when a student demonstrates broader, deeper, more complex understanding of the standard beyond the expected level of mastery, we can report that to parents. At all grade levels in San Mateo-Foster City School District, discussions are occurring to clarify what mastery looks like, and these are important conversations to have.
To emphasize, “4’s” can indeed be given, it’s just a matter of establishing what it looks like across the standards. This is the work our teachers will be doing in the coming months, and it is probably not much different than the thinking that they are already doing as effective educators. In the past, teachers spent much time thinking about what the difference was between an A or B or C, and creating rubrics to score writing and other assignments, so the new work teachers are doing is just an extension of that thinking.
What happens when students go to high school?
We have already met with San Mateo Union High School District and they are aware of what we are doing. They indicated that the 8th grade marks are one of many tools they use to place students, so the change to a standards-based system will be no problem. We also think the new report will actually help high schools place students more accurately because now they will have more specific information about a student’s mastery of standards, work habits, behavior, and citizenship. It is important to note that students will not be harmed by this change as they transition to high school, and they are actually very likely to benefit by the heightened level of information that will be available to the high schools.
We have also notified most local private middle and high schools of this change, and we anticipate that there will be no problems that won’t be easily resolved via the sharing of information.
How will parents be notified of the change in grading systems?
Actually, most parents are already familiar with the change since all 6th and 7th grade students used the new system in elementary school. This also applies to many parents of 8th graders who have younger children in our school district. For those parents who are unfamiliar with the new grading system, we will continue to send information via letter, meet with parent groups such as PTAs and Site Councils, and supply principals and teachers with information very much like that contained in this document to help parents understand the benefits of a standards-based report card.
How will I keep my child motivated if they aren’t trying for an “A” anymore?
It is a characteristic of middle school students that they are either motivated or not by grades. If they are motivated by grades, there is no reason why that wouldn’t continue. Mastery of a standard is an important goal and motivated students will be motivated by that challenge. If they are not motivated by grades, then we will do what we always strive to do as effective educators, that is, provide highly engaging lessons that motivate students to learn. It’s also important to recognize that young people take many of their cues from the adults around them, so if we (parents and teachers) let them know that achieving master of a standard and receiving a mark or “3” or “4” is something special, they will probably think the same.
Middle Schools have many awards and programs based upon GPA and other grade-based factors. How will standards-based reporting impact these awards and programs?
The conversations have already begun and principals are already brainstorming and sharing ideas. Many of the awards and programs are easily converted to a standards-based system, and for those that require more thinking, we believe that we have started the conversation early enough so that by the time we need them, answers will be available.
What are the advantages of having separate academic and work habits/citizenship rubrics over the traditional A-F grading system?
By having separate rubrics, we can give much more clear information about academic progress and behavior, work habits, and citizenship. With the current A-F system, all of that information is combined together in a way that makes if very difficult to know exactly what a student’s strengths and weaknesses are.
Questions That Teachers Have Asked That May Be Of Interest To Parents
How will teachers handle all of the standards that need to be taught with this new report card?
While this is very hard to see before actually doing it, there will actually be little change from what teachers are doing now. Teachers in this district do an outstanding job of covering the standards during the normal course of the school year. What they will likely be doing in preparation for this change is looking at each current assignment and determining two things: the goal and the standards covered. Most teachers already know this information about their assignments and assessments, so there won’t be much new related to the standards for teachers to do.
Concerning the goal: If the goal of the assignment is to assess mastery, then the academic rubric should be used. If the goal is to practice or reinforce learning, then the work habits/citizenship/homework rubric should be used.
Concerning the standards: If an assignment is assessing more than one standard, that can easily be tracked by the gradebook/report card software we are purchasing. Training will be provided to show how to do this.
What support will middle school teachers receive during this transition period?
The District will provide training for all teachers and all other appropriate staff in the new gradebook software. This training will be provided before school begins and will continue for as long as needed. Site principals, lead teachers and front office staff will be trained to build site capacity. At the District level, the technology coach will be available to handle any on-site individual or small group training needs.
Concerning the curriculum, instruction, and assessment pieces, we are working with the middle school principals to ensure that site collaboration time is available so teachers can discuss essential issues related to what mastery looks like for the content standards using the new rubric. These discussions will begin at the site level and then expand to whole district so that we can work on consistency of curriculum, instruction, and assessment among the middle schools.