Some Parents Say City's Revised Forms Are Too Long And Too Confusing
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB FRANK, Courant Staff Writer
February 11, 2008
Hartford, like other school districts across the state, is revamping its report cards.
The new "standards-based" progress reports, educators say, will more accurately measure whether students are learning the skills necessary to score well on the Connecticut Mastery Test.
Now if only parents could understand them.
"It's very, very confusing," said Milly Arciniegas, president of the Hartford PTO Presidents Council. "It's so many numbers and so much wording."
When her son brought home his report card, Arciniegas struggled to understand all the subjects, standards, categories, strands and skills for which teachers assigned him numbers, letters and percentages, she said.
To compound her confusion, the four-page report card and accompanying three-page supplemental report — distributed to help parents understand how their kids are doing — use the letter 'E' differently. On one, "E" represents excellence; on the other it stands for "emerging" understanding of concepts and skills. Instead of traditional A's and B's, there is a numeric scale of 1 through 4 to measure whether students are on, above or below grade level. It's the same ranking used for the Connecticut Mastery Test.
"Parents want to know how they can help their children," Arciniegas said. "Looking at those report cards, it confuses them. I'm hearing that from other parents."
The new report card grew out of a committee formed two years ago. Hartford isn't the only district in the state switching to a "standards-based" or "skills-based" report card, said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education.
"This is a thorny issue," Murphy said. Parents are accustomed to simple assessments of their children along with comments from the teachers. "I've gotten calls from parents around the state who say 'Why can't we go back to A, B, C, D and F? I understand that.'"
Farmington, West Hartford and Trumbull are among the towns that have changed to this new style of report card for at least some grade levels.
Hartford's new version was rolled out to a small number of students in a pilot test at Dwight Elementary School two years ago. Input from teachers and parents was supposed to have been gathered by a team headed by then-lead principal Kathy Greider and used to revise the report card format, said Cathy Carpino, president of the teachers union. After a final version of the report card was created, the plan was to train teachers on how to use them and to instruct parents on how to understand them.
"None of that happened," Carpino said. "Kathy Greider left and it was just dropped. Nobody met any more. Then, all of a sudden in November teachers received the new forms and we were flooded with calls. ... We said 'You can't use this, it's absolutely ridiculous.' ... You would have to plan for that kind of report card."
Christopher Leone, district spokesman, said feedback from the pilot report card was incorporated in a revised version and training for teachers was supposed to be done by principals. "Principals were sent information electronically to support training," he said.
One principal, who asked not to be named, said teachers were not trained. And Carpino said teachers were given permission to write "NA" for 'not applicable' in areas where they were not prepared to give grades.
In addition to the supplemental report cards used by some teachers, Hartford's new report card for grades 4-6 measures 58 academic and behavioral skills.
On the report card for Arciniegas' son, the teacher filled in "NA" for 27 categories, left one blank and directed Arciniegas to the three-page supplemental report card in place of grades for five measurements.
Some of the skills measured are straightforward, such as "uses information from reading to learn about the topic/subject under study."
Others are more perplexing:
•Students are graded in science, in part, on: "Begins to design and conduct scientific investigations aligned with grade level content in order to answer different questions."
•In art: "Responds to others and own artwork and visual arts in relation to history and culture and their own lives."
•In music: "Makes connections between music and other disciplines through evaluation and analysis of compositions and performances."
The extensive supplemental report card sent home to Arciniegas, which assigns both letters — 'E' for emerging, 'P' for proficient and 'M' for mastered — and percent mastered for each skill, was a similar mix of what she found to be straightforward, wordy and confusing.
She points to the skill "Analyze and evaluate the author's craft, including use of literary devices and textual elements" as one confusing example.
Sally N. Alubicki, director of teaching and assessment in West Hartford, said some of the measurements sound like they're right out of the CMT and that her town has some similar measurements on report cards. West Hartford revised its report card in 1998 and although it doesn't have as many measurements as Hartford's new form, it does assess about 40 skills.
Alubicki said West Hartford will revise its report cards further to reflect changes in the curriculum. .
Leone said Hartford may make more revisions, too. The district surveyed parents for feedback on the report cards and is in the process of tabulating those results. Teachers will also be surveyed, he said, and their comments will be incorporated in any revisions.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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