Instead of A-F for math, science, reading and other subjects, the standards-based report cards offer assessments of 40 or more individual skills in terms of "does not meet standards," "in progress," "meets" and "exceeds."
"To put a grade of 90 or an 80 or a 70 on a basic skills doesn't really reflect what the child has learned to do," said Sandra Carraway, the deputy superintendent for student support with the Columbia County Board of Education.
The county is preparing to seek approval for the new report card from the State Board of Education. At the board's June meeting, it approved their use in Jackson and Spalding counties. Whitfield County also has received approval.
Different versions of the cards are being used extensively in California and Hawaii and a growing number of individual districts nationwide as educators adjust to the federal No Child Left Behind Act's goals of ensuring every student receives all necessary skills at each grade level.
"If you are going to change standards, you have to change how you assess students," said April Howard, the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in Jackson County.
Feedback from parents and teachers has been positive, she said, though she admits the new standards take a little getting used to.
State board members noted the possibility for confusion. Parents accustomed to traditional letter grades now will see initials like "DNM" for "does not meet" in Jackson County, while Spalding County uses "1" for "skill taught, assessed, not yet mastered."
What if families move from one district to another, asked State Board member Mary Sue Murray.
State Board Chairwoman Wanda Barrs doesn't believe the state should specify one standard format. "It's an individual matter for school systems," she said.