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Analysis: Controversy over Boston Kindergartners Receiving Report Cards


Heroine of the hour: Pat Consella, Boston kindergarten teacher who has decided to submit all her report cards this week with a big N/A, not applicable, stamped on every page. Note: The report card has 36 categories on which to grade children.

Below is a transcript of the NPR report on kindergarten report card. You can hear this segment by going to

npr.org

You can also see a portion of the math report card--and be glad you don't teach in Boston.


ROBERT SIEGEL, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Schoolchildren in Boston are getting their report cards this week, and for the first time kindergartners are getting them, too. Five-year-olds are being graded on literacy, math and various academic skills. The new policy was debated for years, and as NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports, some teachers and parents are giving these report cards very poor marks.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ reporting:

For months parents at Manning Elementary had heard that kindergarten report cards were coming. Now that they're here, some parents don't like what they see.

Mr. WITZ DELORA(ph) (Parent): It's ridiculous. Look, the report card--I have it here. This is not a report card. It's not an assessment. It's a database entry form, OK.

SANCHEZ: Beginning this week, Witz Delora's five-year-old daughter Roselyn(ph) and her classmates will be graded on vocabulary, pre-reading and writing skills, the grasp of math concepts and geometric shapes, how they respond to literature, 36 categories in all. They'll be evaluated on a scale of one to four, with four indicating the most progress. `This is crazy,' says Delora.

Mr. DELORA: If this is the best tool they can come up with, they can start over. I mean, you naturally think one and two is bad on a scale of one to four. How are you going to react? You're either going to be, you know, loaded for bear, or you're going to come in here thoroughly depressed and upset. What's wrong?

SANCHEZ: Delora is on the school's advisory council, which has voted unanimously to opt out of the new report card policy. But the school district orders Manning to use any report card. Delora says the school should just give all kindergartners threes. Parents want Pat Consella(ph), the school's lone kindergarten teacher, to continue teaching and evaluating the same things that have made this small school in Jamaica Plain one of Boston's highest achieving schools.

(Soundbite of boy playing)

SANCHEZ: It's the end of the school day, and up on the second floor, in Ms. Consella's classroom, a little boy is playing with a mountain of wooden blocks, spellbound.

Ms. PAT CONSELLA (Kindergarten Teacher, Manning Elementary School): Hey, Hookey(ph), you do not have to clean up today. You may leave stuff. And when we come in in the morning, you may clean up then. Good boy. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Blocks, easels, LEGOs are all but disappearing from kindergarten, Consella laments.

Ms. CONSELLA: In most of the regular kindergartens in this school system, you won't see what you just saw: children playing with blocks.

SANCHEZ: Five-year-olds need playtime and rest, says Consella, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the new kindergarten report card.

Ms. CONSELLA: We're talking about little kids here. Can they sit on their bottoms with their legs crossed and listen to a story for 15 minutes without flopping all over?

SANCHEZ: Anytime you try to straightjacket children, says Consella, you're going to frustrate them.

Ms. CONSELLA: The report card gives short shrift to play, to art, to all those activities that aren't narrowly focused on literacy and math. And by sending that document home, the strong message to parents is: These narrow skills are what we're after in kindergarten, not the whole picture of the child as a social being, an emotional being, as a member of a community. And this school is saying, `We're not willing to do that.'

SANCHEZ: That begs the question: Don't you also hurt children by being so touchy-feely? Consella leans forward to the edge of her chair.

Ms. CONSELLA: This has nothing to do with touchy-feely, uh-uh. I like my data. I want data that's meaningful. I want better assessment that works for me and that works for the families.

SANCHEZ: Consella has decided to submit all her report cards this week with a big N/A, not applicable, stamped on every page. One reason Boston teachers have such strong feelings about all this is that the research on academic readiness in this country is so murky. At what point does a child's development become something you can compare, grade, rate or rank, and at what point can you accurately connect a child's development to a set of academic goals or standards?

As some veteran teachers here in Boston point out, five-year-olds are all over the map developmentally, so the new report card is unlikely to shed any light on these questions. But Boston school officials say they've spent years tweaking this policy, and they believe it will really improve instruction. It will also put kindergarten teachers on notice.

Ms. PAT KELLEHER (Teacher): I've taught first grade, and I've had kids that have come into me in first grade, and they have not been ready for first grade.

SANCHEZ: Pat Kelleher has been teaching kindergarten and first grade since 1971. Her classroom is typical, cluttered with small tables and lots of bookshelves, piles of games, puzzles, stuffed animals and a ubiquitous fluffy rug. Kelleher supports the report card policy.

Ms. KELLEHER: When people look at this, they look at it and say, `Oh, my goodness, this is really academic. What happened to the social piece of the report card?' It is academic, but I mean, our job is to teach children. And if your kids aren't making the grade, then maybe the way you're teaching should be changed.

Da, da.

Unidentified Child #1: Dove.

Ms. HELLEHER: What does `da' begin with?

Unidentified Child #2: T, ta.

Ms. HELLEHER: Da.

Unidentified Child #1: D.

Ms. HELLEHER: Wait a minute. This is, like, the second time that I've asked you to sit still. The people beside you can't see, 'cause you keep popping up.

SANCHEZ: Kelleher teaches at Jackson-Mann Elementary in Brighton. This is not a bad school, but some children here are struggling. Seven out of 10 are doing poorly in math and reading. Two out of 10 are so far behind, the school has been issued a warning. Hopefully, the new report card is going to pinpoint the kids' weaknesses earlier, says Kelleher.

Ms. HELLEHER: Hold on for just a second.

SANCHEZ: Sure.

Ms. HELLEHER: I just want to show you my letter.

SANCHEZ: Kelleher walks to her desk and comes back with a letter that she sent parents a few days ago, reassuring them that the new report card is a good thing.

Ms. HELLEHER: This is what I wrote to my parents. It says, `A little bit about the report card. The first marking period has closed, and I'd like to...'

SANCHEZ: If nothing else, the new kindergarten report card will be a wake-up call for parents, says Joanne Russell. She's a principal at Jackson-Mann Elementary.

Ms. JOANNE RUSSELL (Principal, Jackson-Mann Elementary School): Parents are going to ask, `What can I do to help my child?' And for some of those parents that have not been as active in the child's life as they should be are going to switch gears and hopefully read to their children for 15 minutes a day.

SANCHEZ: I asked Russell, `Won't the new kindergarten report card create more stress for kids and parents?'

Ms. RUSSELL: Don't even get me going on that. I can't believe in this school, in this city, that giving a report card to kindergarten children is going to cause stress on the part of the child. It just ain't going to happen.

Group of People: (Singing) ...down the chimney with good Saint Nick.

Unidentified Woman: Keep in rhythm. Ready?

SANCHEZ: Russell says as long as she is in charge here, the report card will be only one more tool for gauging kindergartners' progress, along with teacher observation and evaluation of children's work over time. Next month Boston will decide which schools, if any, will get a waiver and not be required to issue kindergarten report cards. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: To compare Boston's new kindergarten report cards with a much simpler version used three decades ago, you can go to our Web site, npr.org.

— All Things Considered
National Public Radio

2004-12-16



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