SLO Coastal introducing new reports cards without letter grades

A sample of a new San Luis Coastal Unified School District report card for elementary school students
A sample of a new San Luis Coastal Unified School District report card for elementary school students

Elementary students in San Luis Coastal Unified School District will no longer receive “A’s,” “B’s,” or any other letter grade on their report cards — ending a long culture of academic success being translated into a passing grade.

The district has replaced classic report cards with a report card that gives an in-depth look at a student’s progress in learning a list of skills in language arts and math that are set out in the state’s Common Core standards.

Parents will receive the new report cards for the first time in November and again in March and June.

Although San Luis Coastal is the first district in San Luis Obispo County to completely eliminate letter grades for elementary students, most local school districts anticipate doing the same in coming years, following a nationwide shift to focus on the standards.

The district anticipates that parent and teacher feedback will help improve the format of the report cards. As a result, they are being introduced on a pilot basis at all 10 elementary schools.

Student progress will now be measured using a numeric rubric, ranging from “1” which means a student is not yet meeting the standard to a “4” for students who exceed expectations.

The report card will also have a separate area tracking behaviors such as following the rules, completing homework and collaborating with peers.

Amy Shields, elementary director of learning and achievement, said that teachers in the district have been asking for the change for years.

Until now, the grade a student received could represent a lot of things such as homework, an average of scores during the trimester or behavior, said Shields. The weight of each of those was always up to the teacher.

“There was no consistency across classrooms at the same school or in the district,” she said. A committee of 37 teachers, principals and other schools staff met for more than a year, researching the change and talking with school districts across the country already using standards-based report cards.

Lauren Villa, a sixth-grade teacher at C.L. Smith Elementary in San Luis Obispo, was on the committee.

She said the new report cards will now reflect what is being taught in the classroom, whereas past report cards were too broad.

“It is broken down more conceptually,” said Villa. “This is helpful because students have strengths in different areas. A single grade in math, for example, doesn’t tell parents, or the student, which specific areas have been mastered and which areas can be improved.”

For example, a third-grade report card will include more than a dozen categories for the various math concepts taught, correlating to the specific standards, such as: multiplying and dividing within 100 with fluency, understanding fractions as numbers and using place value to perform multi-digit arithmetic.

Villa acknowledged that it might take time for parents and students to acclimate to the change.

“It is something new that has a lot of information,” she said. “When you first look at it is looks like a lot but what is on this report card is so valuable to teachers, parents and students.”

One of the major hurdles with the new reporting system is that the numeric rubric does not correspond to the old letter grades.

Now a “3” or “meets expectations” is the goal for students and “4’s” will be unusual, said Shields.

Students at the district’s middle and high schools will still receive letter grades. Atascadero Unified School District is the only other school district in the county using standards-based reporting on report cards. However, for now, they also still use letter grades for fourth to sixth grades, said Barbara Boud, director of curriculum.