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New report cards are standards based

A report card focus group session was conducted by state Department of Education personnel at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School to get feedback on the new elementary school report card and the proposed secondary school report card.

The meeting, attended by administrators, Kauai District staff, teachers, and parents was the 21st of 23 sessions scheduled statewide.

The session was led by a specialist on grading and reporting, Robert Widhalm. Other specialists joined him in gathering comments on “what we like and why,” and “what we cannot support and why” and to garner suggestions to improve the report card.

This was the first year of implementation for all elementary schools of a standards-based report card.

The implementation ran into problems during the first quarter grading period. According to state Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto’s Dec. 1, 2005 Update, the main concerns voiced by teachers were the amount of time needed to complete each report card and difficulties with the multilayer carbonless paper.

Schools were given three choices: continue to use the new report card; use a standards-based report card developed by the school; use the traditional report card and grading practices for the remainder of the school year.

“All of the Kauai elementary schools continued to use the new report card,” said Sean Doi, Kauai District Resource Teacher.

Doi assists schools with standards-based grading and reporting.

Kilauea Elementary School Principal Fred Rose said that parents and teachers were apprehensive at first, but now everyone is comfortable with the process. He feels the new report card is a good attempt at clarifying what grades mean.

Kalaheo Elementary School Principal Erik Burkman said his parents understand what is being communicated relative to the standards. He said that report cards are only one tool to communicate academic performance. “There’s (work with feedback) from the teacher that goes home, as well as parent conferences,” Burkman said.

Doi said the new report card is necessary to articulate the principles and concepts of standards-based grading. One example he gave was the practice of averaging grades. In standards-based grading, the most recent evidence of attaining the standard is used, rather than averaging grades over a grading period.

“In traditional grading practices, behavior and effort are factored into the grade,” Doi said. “With the standards-based report card, behavior and effort are reported separately as General Learner Outcomes.”

Doi said grading is just the “tip of the iceberg.” He said he works with teachers on guiding learning through the use of formative assessments and developing performance tasks.

“Grading is at the end of the journey,” Doi said.

According to the timeline presented by Widhalm, the secondary standards-based report card will be piloted in school year 2009-10, with full implementation in 2012-13. A committee has been meeting since May 2004 and has recommendations for consideration at the report card focus group sessions.

Widhalm said the feedback will be compiled and reviewed by the committee. “This process will continue through the piloting phase until implemention.”

Widhalm said his likes this process because it honors the practioner and the researcher. The blending of the two should result in the best product, he said. The old report card form did not change for 25 years, he said. The new report card may not stay the same for very long, because it is part of a continuous improvement process. He likened it to cell phones and computers that continually come out with new features.

The focus groups were divided by level — elementary, middle, and high school and were scheduled to have an hour to provide feedback after an overview presentation by Widhalm.

One conversation in the elementary group centered on communicating with parents about which standards were being covered when, since individual standards are not listed on the report cards. A question was raised in the high school group about resources to assist with helping students meet the standards.

One concern raised in the middle school group was the move from letter grades to the use of numbers.

• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at


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