In most school systems, it's the kids who dread taking home their report cards to their parents. But when it comes to the D.C. schools' new-fangled report cards, it's the opposite. The parents are dreading them.
Instead of a traditional card that shows A, B, C, D or F grades for each subject, parents of D.C. elementary students are now getting a four-page, and in some cases, five-page report card that reads more like a computer printout than a succinct assessment of their children's work.
There are no letter grades on the report cards, which are being used in grades one through six. Rather, parents have received checklists of the math and reading skills which their children have mastered in class. But much of the terminology on the checklists appears to be written for professional educators, rather than parents.
On the second-grade math skills checklist, parents are told whether their child can "Write a two-digit number as a sum in which one addend is the next lower multiple of ten" and "Subtract a two-digit number from a two-digit number with regrouping."
On the reading skills list, the report card says whether the student can perform such tasks as "Identify initial consonant substitution" and "Apply CVC principle," the use of a word that contains a consonant, a vowel and another consonant.
For clarification of what these skills mean, parents are being asked to go to their children's school and talk with their children's teachers during the next week.
Meanwhile, some parents who have received the new report cards are dumbfounded.
"I think they went overboard," said Winnie Blatchford, president of the Lafayette Elementary Home and School Association in Northwest.
"They are trying to provide more information to parents and I applaud that. But I don't think we need all these forms . . . . I think simplification is the answer," she said.
Blatchford also complained about the educational jargon used on the report cards. The term "regrouping" in the skill "Subtract a two-digit number from a two-digit number with regrouping" merely means that the child should be able to subtract two numbers where it is necessary to borrow from the tens. Blatchford said she learned that only after talking with her child's teacher.
"I'm the first to admit it's very hard to get the terminology down" to laymen's terms, said James T. Guines, the D.C. schools' associate superintendent for instruction.
But, he added, the system is trying to hand out a report card that is "like a medical record where the doctor attempts to report on the patient's condition . . . . Should a brain surgeon make a diagnosis to a patient to the effect that the left side of his head has a 'little knot' in it that has to come out?" Guines asked.
Prince George's County schools are also sending home checklists of skills each student has mastered, together with a traditional report card showing grades.
But school officials there have written the checklists in fairly simple terms. The Prince George's second-grade checklist merely indicates whether the student can perform such skills as "Read with comprehension," "Tell time and read a calendar," "Use a primary dictionary" and "Apply functional reading skills."
D.C. school officials said grades were left off the current report cards because it is only mid-semester. Grades will appear on the report cards at the end of the first semester in January, they said.
Guines said the report cards had to be revised since the school system is using a new method for promoting youngsters, whereby the students must master a specific number of skills in reading and math before they can be promoted at both the mid-year point and in June.
The checklists show parents what skills their children have mastered, and how many still need to be mastered before the end of the semester.