MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Most of today's students and their parents are used to report cards based on the letters A through F. But a new grading system is taking root in schools across the country. It's called standards-based grading. The point is to give parents more information, as New Hampshire Public Radio's Sam Evans-Brown reports.
SAM EVANS-BROWN, BYLINE: Here's what we know about grades in America: A is good, F is bad. But what about these?
BRIAN STACK: We have like E, M, IP, and LP.
EVANS-BROWN: Brian Stack is the principal of Sanborn High School in Kingston, New Hampshire. Those are the grades that kids in his school get. They stand for exceeding, meeting, in progress, and limited progress.
STACK: Then there's the category called not met, NM. There's the category called not yet competent, which is NYC. There's one called insufficient work shown, which is IWS.
EVANS-BROWN: That is standard-based grading 101. Schools are changing their grades to get rid of A through F and the corresponding hundred point scale. They say such scales hide where a student is weak or strong by averaging all their grades. Jess Potter, the principle of Center Woods Elementary School in Weare, New Hampshire, says in the old system, if you were the parent of a first grader who comes home with a C in math, what would that mean?
JESS POTTER: So does that mean that she knows how to add? I wouldn't know that.
EVANS-BROWN: So here is standard's base grading 201. Instead of just one grade for math or English, you get a series of grades for each skill. At Potter's school, these are called I-Can statements and they're written in plain English, like this one for third grade English.
POTTER: For instance, I can use words and phrases that I have learned through listening and reading.
EVANS-BROWN: Like Sanborn High School, Center Woods uses a four-point scale, but instead of the crazy letters, it's just one through four. A child who can use words and phrases learned from a book with the help of a teacher gets a two, if she can do it on her own, she gets a three and if she's really good at it, she gets a four. But here's one thing that a lot of parents have a hard time with.
Those skills grades don't measure how much homework the child does, how well they participate or pay attention in class or a slew of other factors that are used to define good students. And that's true, says Denise Burke, who teaches third grade at Center Woods. These grades are only based on how well the student can do the skill in question.
POTTER: Why would you get a lowered grade on I can fluently add and subtract numbers through 1,000 because you didn't turn in your homework?
EVANS-BROWN: But aren't skills like showing up on time and doing all your homework just as important as the academic stuff? Principal Potter say, of course, which is why they give study skills and in-class behavior their own grades, which are on the front page of the report card. She thinks her new report card has an edge on the old system by pointing out a bad work ethic, even when a student is getting a good academic grade.
POTTER: Under a typical or traditional report card, let's say I don't do my homework. I get a grade and then I get to move on. Hopefully, we catch them before they learn that behavior and that we teach them that it's not okay.
EVANS-BROWN: There's not much data on how many schools have switched to some sort of standards-based scheme, but education watchers are seeing it all over the country. Alissa Peltzman is vice president for state policy with Achieve, a Washington D.C.-based group that pushes for education reform.
ALISSA PELTZMAN: We've seen a lot of districts in Massachusetts move in this direction.
EVANS-BROWN: Other schools in New York and California...
PELTZMAN: Hawaii, Tennessee, you're seeing a sprinkling across the country.
EVANS-BROWN: And while the schools that have adopted these report cards see plenty of reasons to like them, there's also another big reason that they're spreading.
DANIEL DOMENECH: The Common Core offers the best opportunity for the adoption of standard-based grading around the country.
EVANS-BROWN: Dan Domenech is the executive director of the American School Superintendents Association. He says, as the Common Core, a set of shared goal posts for what students are expected to know, has spread across the country, standards-based grading has spread with it.
DOMENECH: By moving that direction, it makes it more doable for individual school districts to develop the kind of grading system that's tied to a set up national standards.
EVANS-BROWN: At Center Woods, the first standards-based report card went out last Friday. Principal Potter says she'll be spending this week helping parents adjust to the new grades. For NPR News, I'm Sam Evans-Brown in Concord, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.