Balto. Co. to overhaul report cards

The Baltimore Sun

Report cards for elementary schools in Baltimore County will be overhauled in the coming school year - the first major change in nearly a decade in how the system charts its youngest students' progress.

The current report card, which has been used since 1999, is based on standards and state assessments that are no longer being used, school officials said during last night's school board meeting.

The report cards needed to be updated to reflect national, state and local standards, said Jean Wilson, an administrator who worked on a report card task force.

The new computerized report cards, which are more detailed, are customized at each grade level and are designed to give parents a better understanding of how the school system's curriculum becomes more complex from kindergarten to fifth grade.

"The new report cards provide more information," Wilson said. "This specificity allows parents to understand more than ever about the Baltimore County school system curriculum."

Report cards for students who are in gifted-and-talented programs will reflect the "advanced instructional expectations," according to a report that school officials delivered to the board.

"The new report card grading systems are based on higher standards requiring teachers to not only assess students' acquisition of knowledge, but also their application of knowledge," the report states.

For example, the third-grade report card includes the entry "recognizes and explains that the natural environment provides the survival needs of plants and animals," as one of six measurements of a student's progress in science. A second-grader will be graded on nearly a dozen points in math, including "reads, writes, represents, compares, orders and describes whole numbers."

The new report cards are set to be tested in 20 elementary schools - four in each of the school system's five geographic regions - in the fall, school officials said. Those schools are expected to be selected next month.

School officials said the task force of about 100 members worked on developing the new report card, a project that county schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston initiated last summer. The task force included parents, community members, teachers and administrators.

The new report cards are based on several key educational components, including the Articulated Instruction Module, a detailed progress reporting system that was introduced last year in some schools, and the state's voluntary curriculum standards.

When it was launched as a test program last year, the Articulated Instruction Module, or AIM, was met with resistance from the county teachers union, whose leaders said that preparing the reports would add to teachers' already overflowing plates.

Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, raised similar concerns last night. While she applauded improvements, such as the report cards being electronically accessible and more closely matching what is taught in classroooms, Bost worried that it will take teachers too much time to prepare them.

Bost said she hopes officials will streamline the task.

All elementary schools are expected to start using the new report card for the 2009-2010 school year.

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