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New CUSD report cards raises concerns, puzzle parents

It is the end of the first trimester in the first year of Common Core implementation. Report cards went out on Friday, gauging how students are mastering the new standards and how schools are doing at imparting them.

The Claremont Unified School District is having some growing pains when it comes to this next stage of the transition to the Common Core. Some teachers say the nearly two-page report cards pose a challenge for instructors to complete and parents to decipher. 

At last Thursday’s school board meeting, Sycamore Elementary School teacher Lisa Schuster took to the podium during public comment to discuss what she considers a difficult assessment method. The report cards, which she saw for the first time a little more than two weeks before they were to be issued, represented a daunting amount of work, she said.

Teachers were asked to fill in more than 70 individual boxes per report card addressing various areas of subject mastery. Multiply that number by 34 students and she found herself with some 2,380 boxes to fill, along with the personalized comments she leaves elaborating on individual performance.

Ms. Schuster noted her task was complicated by Sycamore’s traditional inter-grade model. She teaches fourth, fifth and sixth graders simultaneously, and assesses each age group somewhat differently.

“As a professional educator, I feel it is my duty to have evidence for every mark I place on a permanent record of a student’s progress,” she said.

 The potential shortcut of skipping certain boxes altogether was not an option because under the report card’s guidelines, an empty box indicates proficiency.

While noting that Sycamore principal Amy Stanger has been responsive to her staff’s concerns, Ms. Schuster said she wished she had more time for the unfamiliar grading process.

“How can I fill out this form with integrity when I am given the task of supporting my choices with evidence for marks in over 2,000 boxes in a two-week time span?” she said. “I feel very uncomfortable to have been put in this position. I am exhausted, and I know I am not alone in my feelings.”

Joe Tonan, a Sumner Elementary School teacher and past president of the Claremont Faculty Association, echoed Ms. Schuster’s concerns.

The free software program the district opted to use to create its report cards was “clunky,” he said.

It took him longer than usual to submit his grades, but Mr. Tonan said his concerns stemmed more from the fact that teachers had no idea, as they dove into the school year, what would be included in their student assessments.

For instance, he found himself at a loss as to how to measure whether a student had demonstrated “ethical use of technology,” a category of learning for which the district currently has no rubric. He was also chagrined to be asked to distinguish between students’ mastery of fiction reading and comprehension from how well they get non-fiction.

“The worst aspect of this year’s report cards is parents are having trouble decoding them,” Mr. Tonan said in a phone interview this Tuesday.

“I personally find that this format, where you have so many different checks and different places to mark, really isn’t a good tool to communicate with parents,” he said. “I have shared the whole report card, going through all the different parts of it and all the different marks on it and, at the end, the parent asks, ‘So how is my child doing?’ If they’re asking that question, I don’t think the current format does a good job of communicating to parents.”

Mr. Tonan stressed that Common Core assessment is a work in progress. And, throughout the past months, school board members and district personnel have adopted a pardon-our-progress position, praising schools and teachers for gamely striving to make changes while flying blind.

On?November 25, the teachers were given a survey about the report cards. Mr. Tonan said he is gratified they were able to share their feedback.

“A committee made up of teachers has been formed, and will look at the report card to see if we can come up with a better product this year,” he said.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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