After a year of meeting and planning, a committee of Forest Park School District 91 teachers from all grade levels have introduced several changes that they hope will allow the district’s report cards to give parents a better idea of the progress their children have made and in which areas they most need help.

The main focus of the changes is to evaluate younger students not only based on their knowledge of certain content, but on the skills they’ve gained that will determine whether they succeed in later grades.

“For elementary school kids, the subject matter is important but it’s the skills you’re really working on…that begins to change when they get older,” said Field Stevenson principal Robert Giovannoni.

The instigator for many of the changes was the switch to electronic grading, which was intended to make the grading process quicker and easier for teachers.

This process led to a reevaluation of the grading scale used by the district. Kindergartners and first graders, who used to receive marks of S (satisfactory) and U (unsatisfactory) will now be graded M for mastered, D for developing or N for needs improvement.

With this year’s scheduling changes allowing more class time than in previous years, teachers felt the district’s curriculum had outgrown the old report cards, according to Garfield School principal Jamie Stauder.

“Our kindergarten and first grade teachers felt the report cards did not quite meet the curricular needs they have at their grade level,” she said. The kindergarten report card was practically rewritten.”

The old kindergarten report card was divided into three sections: personal and social growth, work and growth habits and readiness skills. These were each divided into several subsections. Readiness skills, for example, included evaluations of students’ ability to write their name, hold a pencil correctly, name letters and recognize shapes.

The new version has eight sections: work habits/social skills, reading readiness, writing readiness, math, music, art, P.E. and fine motor development. The subcategories under each of these headings are also much more detailed than in the past.

Reading readiness, for example, now includes the ability to understand book conventions (front to back and top to bottom) and print conventions. Students are graded on their ability to produce rhyming words, recite the days of the week and months of the year in sequence, and even zip and button their clothing independently.

Stauder said that though older elementary school students’ report cards were not changed as drastically as the kindergartners, similar additions were made to add detail and specificity that would allow parents to determine exactly where their children most need help.

“In developing the skills needed to become a lifelong learner, we felt more was needed to accurately report back to parents,” she said.

Giovannoni said that in addition to pleasing parents, the report cards are also intended to comply with the State of Illinois’ standards based curriculum, which has been continually evolving since the 1980s. Illinois first adopted a set of 34 State Goals for education in 1985 and then adopted the current, more specified set of goals in 1997. Many of these standards are measured in the new report cards.

Giovannoni said that he sees both pros and cons in the state’s move toward a standards based model. He said that the standards provide effective guidelines, but should not take over the classroom.

“The problem is when it becomes the be all and end all,” he said, explaining that he does not want to see the loss of the “teachable moment,” when a student’s question gives a teacher the opportunity to teach a class a life lesson that might not otherwise be included in the curriculum.

Still, he said, report cards should reflect student’s progress on these standards since they will serve as the yardstick with which their success is measured for much of their academic careers.

With the new grading system, second and third graders will be graded with checks, plusses and minuses, while fourth grade and above will receive the traditional letter grades.

The first round of District 91 report cards this year will be issued on Nov. 10.