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Teachers Start Report Card Revolution

Some teachers have taken it upon themselves to rework their report cards. Two teachers talk with Education World about the systems they developed and the benefits to students and parents of their improved grade-reporting systems. Tips included. Included: Tips for setting up more detailed grading systems.

While some districts and schools are working on new report cards or grading systems, some teachers have taken it upon themselves to create report cards that are more informative for parents, students, and themselves.

One of those teachers is Carolyn Hinshaw, a fifth grade teacher in the Bellingham (Washington) Public Schools, who designed an electronic report card with help from coworkers Clint Lively and Jaylani Battle.

"I wanted to streamline the way I collect and report grades/data to parents," Hinshaw told Education World. "As teachers moved to standards-based learning, [we saw that] many of the electronic report card programs online aren't set up to be used as standards-based reporting tools. The eGrader tool that we created allows teachers to enter standards instead of assignments, percentages, or letter grades, unlike so many of the commercial products."

Read More About the Report Card Revolution

Not long ago, filling out report cards was as easy as A, B, C. The accountability and standards movements have changed all that. Read What Will Your School's Next Report Card Look Like? to learn how some districts and schools are revamping their report cards.

The eGrader tool is a large Excel file, according to Hinshaw. The tool allows teachers to collect standards-based data to shape their teaching practices. The eGrader has three parts: The first part is a gradebook, which allows teachers to collect data for individual students about learning that occurs in the classroom. After entering the data for an assessment that measures a particular standard, the teacher can identify students who are having trouble with that standard and create a teaching group for them for the following day. "The grade book actually allows the teacher to use data to plan the next steps in learning for individual students," she said.

The second part to the gradebook is a data merge sheet. This sheet collects all the grades from the gradebook and summarizes them to print out on the report cards.

The monitoring notes section is the final part of the gradebook. This section allows teachers to take anecdotal notes on students' strengths and weaknesses. By storing and collecting anecdotal information, teachers can show individual growth over time.

Hinshaw is in the third year of using the tool; this year about 100 teachers throughout the district volunteered to try it.

"Many teachers remark that it is a powerful tool that helps them plan for the next step of instruction for individual students," she said. "Also, they love being able to cut in half the time spent creating report cards. It allows them to spend more time on the comments for the report card.

"This is a totally grassroots movement. This tool was designed by teachers, created for teachers, and is being used by teachers. It is the teachers' choice."

PUTTING STUDENTS IN CHARGE

Another educator, language arts/humanities teacher Nancy Slentz of Meridian Middle School in Lynden, Washington, was searching for a way to boost the homework completion rate among her eighth graders, so she developed a system that allows students to record their own grades. Using Slentz's system, students are able to see immediately the consequences of not completing assignments. Slentz developed the grading system as part of a master's degree research project on motivation.

Prior to developing the new system, "students had the opportunity to turn in work late for less credit, and redo work to earn higher grades, but few students took advantage of these policies," according to Slentz. "Usually, it was the students who already had strong grades who would redo work or retake tests. Interestingly, students were often upset with me when they received their progress reports -- [it was as if] I was giving them a bad grade, instead of them earning it."

After seeing a survey that indicated grades are powerful motivators for students, and reading research on motivation that said pupils benefit from having a certain amount of feedback and control, Slentz went to work. She created a system using Excel through which students not only could track their grades, but also use their gradebooks to determine how not completing an assignment would lower their grade, or how much redoing their work could improve their grade.

"Grades in my class are based on a simple percentage of points earned, so it was not difficult to teach students to use Excel to calculate percentages," Slentz said.

Students even learned to write comments to their parents and print their own progress reports, which included goals for improvement, although Slentz continued to send parents her comments as well.

The system led to a new mindset among students. "I felt my relationships with some students improved and the tone in my classroom improved as they stopped seeing poor grades as something mean I did to them, and began to realize that their time and effort in turning in homework and redoing poor quality work was a function of their time and effort," Slentz said.

Among the problems with the system were that very motivated students felt recording their grades made little difference to them, because they already knew what their grades were. Finding time to teach students to record grades and enter them on a regular basis also was a problem, added Slentz. "Some students had a hard time keeping track of graded papers until they could get time to enter grades."

"The system definitely helped reduce failures; most students liked keeping track and being in control," Slentz told Education World. She is not using the system this term, although she may reinstate it second term.

Also, help for teachers wishing to develop their own grading systems is available. Teachers or administrators who would like help creating an electronic gradebook program that fits their report card structure can contact Hinshaw at chinshaw@rightinclass.com.

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