Rock Hill report cards get new look

Hundreds of Rock Hill elementary schoolers last month took home report cards without a single letter grade.

No "M"s for "Meeting expectations." No "E"s for "Exceeding expectations."

Rock Hill schools scrapped traditional grade sheets for students in kindergarten through second grade in favor of what amounts to a four-page diagnostic report detailing each child's academic progress.

It's intended to give parents a clear picture of their children's achievement.

The change is part of a national trend of schools adopting "standards-based report cards."

Since its 2001 inception, the federal No Child Left Behind law has forced educators to focus attention on standards, or skills that students are expected to know in each grade. Each state devises its own standards.

School districts across the country have gravitated to these new report cards as a way to keep students and parents in the loop.

Rock Hill kindergartners used to get a single sheet that glossed over several subjects.

For language arts, they got check marks if they could hold a book correctly, recognize familiar words and identify capital letters. But there wasn't room for details.

The new report card includes a page dedicated to each subject. The language arts section includes descriptions of students' reading levels and the progress they're expected to make that year.

Each subject heading lists the skills students are to learn and when.

"This is a paradigm shift," said Richard Melzer, executive director of elementary education. "The purpose is to try to meet you where you are as a learner."

For some parents, four pages of detailed charts about standards and reading levels may seem like information overload. But, said Rock Hill schools director of early childhood education Jackie Chumley, "we'd rather err on the side of giving too much information."

"To me," said Belleview Elementary teacher Michelle Antonucci, "it makes more sense to give parents this information than an M or an E, which is fairly ambiguous."

That may take some adjustment, especially for parents used to their son or daughter bringing home all E's.

The new report cards focus on year-end goals. That means during the first or second grading period, an outstanding student might, instead of getting E's for stellar work and test scores, get marks showing that she's not yet proficient in some areas.

"I think as a parent, I might have been confused at first," said Stephanie Galeota, who teaches first grade at Old Pointe Elementary. But "I'm glad to have them. It lets them know where their strengths are and what they need to work on."

Chumley and Melzer have led Rock Hill's adoption of the new report cards. For months, they met with committees of teachers, principals, parents and school officials.

They say the report cards fit perfectly with the districts "curriculum mapping" initiative, which involves coordinating classes across all subjects. It's a new way for the district to approach teaching in that educators start with what students should know by the end of the year and map how to get them there.

The report cards are parents' and students' guide along the way, Chumley said.

So far, Antonucci said, parents seem to understand.

"We were all a little apprehensive about it being so new," she said. "It was new to us; it was new to them. But I think anytime you give parents more information about what's going on in class it's a good thing."

A standards-based report card lists the skills that school districts say students should learn in each subject at a particular grade level.

They include several subjects -- language arts (reading and writing), math, science and social studies.

For instance, Rock Hill first-graders in science should be able to:

• Compare features of day and night sky.

• Compare soil samples.

• Illustrate the fact that sound is produced by vibrating objects.

Instead of letter grades, students get check marks beside the skills they have mastered. Depending on their progress, they get numbered:

• 1 for beginning

• 2 for developing

• 3 for meeting

• 4 for performing above grade level

Rock Hill's report cards also include sections for behavior and teacher comments.