Top Bar

Lower Merion School District


New LMSD Report Card for Grades K-5: A Guide for Families

“We will transform how we define, measure, and report student achievement with a focus on each student's individualized growth and mastery in areas that extend beyond traditional academic indicators.”

- LMSD’s Strategic Plan All Forward, Redefining Success Pathway

This guide has been created to provide families information about the Lower Merion School District’s new report card. The report card was piloted in the 4th grade during the 2017-18 school year and expanded to all elementary grades (K-5) during the 2019-2020 school year. The current report card aligns with our strategic plan All Forward in that it focuses on the District’s Transformative Goals, reflects the Habits of Mind, is more narrative-rich, and reports more closely on specific skills.

Why do we need a new report card?

We believe that the purpose of grading is to communicate student achievement and progress on student learning objectives. Grades should not be about what students earn, but rather what they learn. Through the inspiration of our strategic plan, All Forward, we embarked on a journey to redesign the report card to do a better job of clearly communicating student learning.

Student Narrative

The new report card features an expanded narrative that provides meaningful feedback for students and families on progress toward the district’s transformative goals, an important part of the district’s strategic plan, All Forward. Embedded in this narrative will be the values reflected in our strategic plan, including fostering growth mindset, student innovation, and other measures of the Habits of Mind. For your reference, the district’s transformative goals can be viewed here (or → Strategic Plan → Documents and Presentations → Transformative Goals). The transformative goals are K-12 student learning targets that are long-term in nature, establish purpose and relevance, and emphasize independent application when facing new challenges both in and outside of school. They are closely aligned with the dispositions reflected in the Habits of Mind and drive our instructional and curricular work in the District (see for additional information).

The Habits of Mind are an identified set of 16 problem-solving, life-related skills, necessary to effectively thrive in society and promote strategic reasoning, insightfulness, perseverance, creativity, and craftsmanship. The understanding and application of these 16 Habits of Mind serve to provide the individual with skills to work through real life situations that equip that person to respond using awareness (cues), thought, and intentional strategy in order to gain a positive outcome (Habits of Mind: A Developmental Series). In addition to reporting student progress toward mastering academic standards, the new report card will also contain a narrative outlining student progress in developing Habits of Mind in the classroom setting.

What are standards-based report cards?

A portion of the new LMSD report card is skill- or standard-based reporting. This complements the narrative portion of the report card. A standards-based report card lists the most essential skills students should learn in each subject at a particular grade level. Instead of letter grades, performance indicators are shared. These indicators convey how well students have mastered specific skills within a subject area. The indicator shows whether the student is applying, meeting, or approaching the skill. It also informs the parent or guardian with specificity if a particular skill is emerging, perhaps an area of concern.

Standards-based report cards should provide more consistency between teachers than traditional report cards, because all students are evaluated on the same grade-appropriate skills. Parents or guardians can see more specifically which skills their children have learned and have clearer sense of the knowledge acquired.

How do standards-based grades differ?

On many traditional report cards, students receive one grade for reading, one for math, one for science and so on. On a standards-based report card, each of these subject areas is divided into a list of skills and knowledge that students are responsible for learning. Separate indicators for each skill or standard are shared.

The indicators on a standards-based report card are different from traditional letter grades. Letter grades are often calculated by combining how well the student met the particular teacher's expectations, how the student performed on assignments and tests, and perhaps how much effort the teacher believes the student invested. Letter grades do not convey to parents which skills their children have mastered or whether they are working at grade level. For example, because one fourth-grade teacher may be devoting more time to reading out loud accurately, while another is prioritizing teaching reading for comprehension, getting an A in each of these classes would mean very different things. It would be less clear to the parent/guardian of a child in these classes if their child was learning what the student is expected in order to meet the grade-level expectations.

Descriptors of Performance Indicators

Four indicators of progress are noted on the new report cards using a numeric marking system (4, 3, 2, and 1). Descriptors for each indicator are provided below:

4: Applying

The student’s performance consistently meets the grade level standard. The student applies key concepts, processes, and skills at a complex level.

3: Meeting

The student’s performance consistently meets the grade level standard. The student grasps key concepts, processes, and skills.

2: Approaching

The student’s performance is approaching the grade level standard. The student is developing an understanding of key concepts, processes, and skills.

1: Emerging

The student's performance does not meet the grade level standard. The student demonstrates a limited understanding of key concepts, processes, and skills.


On a standards-based report card, an indicator of “3” is the expected goal for students, which conveys that the student is meeting the requirements of the academic standards for the student’s grade level. Indicators of “3” and “2” both show that a student is working within the expectations of the grade level. The difference is the level of independence and support a student needs to demonstrate mastery. The expectation is that most students will achieve a “3” by the end of the year for each grade-level standard. District curriculum supervisors continue to work with teachers to identify the skills taught and assessed as well as the expected student evidence of learning for each marking period. Evidence of learning informs future instruction and assessment. Learners are assessed based on the evidence of their progress toward mastery of those expectations established for each trimester period.

4 – An indicator of “4” conveys that the student’s progress consistently meets standards because the student has demonstrated mastery in terms of knowledge and applies that knowledge in ways that go beyond meeting the standard. Instruction is differentiated through enrichment and extension for this student because the student has demonstrated mastery of the grade level expectation at this time.

3 – An indicator of “3” conveys that progress towards end-of-the-year standards meets the district’s expectations at this time. For example, even if a student scores a 30% on a math unit pre-test and then proceeds to score well, even as high as a 100%, on the post-test, the student clearly demonstrated a positive response to instruction and warrants a score of “3”. This student has met the expectation independently and requires little to no adult support to demonstrate proficiency after instruction has been delivered.

2 – An indicator of “2” conveys that the progression of skills and information is in the expected range, but the student still requires support and assistance to meet the requirements of the academic standard for the student’s grade level at this time.

1 – An indicator of “1” conveys that the requirements of the grade-level standard are not met at this time. The student’s instructional level is characterized as requiring significant teacher support and differentiation/accommodations or even modifications. It is expected that teachers have communicated with parents prior to the distribution of the report card for any student receiving a “1” for any standard.


What exactly do you mean when referencing “standards?”

Standards are determined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and determine what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. It would be overwhelming to list and report on every standard on each report card. The standards on the LMSD report card are a snapshot of the Pennsylvania Common Core State Standards that have been deemed most essential. You can find more information about the PA Common Core State Standards at

What examples of data do teachers collect to determine progress reported?

With a skills or standards-based approach, teachers gather evidence of and evaluate student learning in a variety of ways using classroom observations, classwork, and assessments. The combination of these pieces of evidence, when reviewed with parents or guardians, provides a more detailed and comprehensive picture of student progress towards grade-level expectations.

Is it possible for students to “drop” from one trimester period to another?

Yes, it is possible, but it is important to note that the student does not necessarily “drop” a grade. The performance indicator is an indication of actual performance in relation to expected performance. Expectations shift as difficulty and complexity of tasks increase throughout the school year. Therefore, a student who demonstrates an indicator of “3” in the first trimester could possibly earn a “2” in the second trimester when the rigor of the expectation has been increased. This shift from a “3” to a “2” indicates the student understands the major elements of the concept but may need more development of the details or application and more teacher support.

How do I help my child “get a 4?”

Remember, an indicator of “3” conveys that a student is meeting grade-level expectations with independence and excellence. With high and challenging expectations, a “3” is indicative of where a student should be. “Getting a 4” is not about what more a student does. It is what a student knows, and at what level the student applies knowledge to new and higher-level situations that exceeds what is explicitly taught in class.

How does standards-based reporting differ for students with IEP’s?

Students with Individualized Education Programs (IEP) must be provided with the same opportunity to receive grades in relation to expectations for grade level standards; this is a civil right. Since special education students are a heterogeneous group with various disabilities that impact learning, some may not achieve certain grade-level standards without special services and supports. For students with accommodations, the content of the standard remains the same, but the method for learning and demonstrating mastery of a standard may be adjusted. Modifications, on the other hand, can mean changing the standard itself, identifying standards that are fundamentally related but also developmentally appropriate. The IEP Team makes decisions regarding what content areas, if any, require modifications of the grade level standards. For all students with an IEP, a supplemental progress report is provided that identifies how students are performing on appropriately challenging learning tasks as outlined in the goals and objectives of their IEP.

How are English Language Learners (ELL) who are still acquiring English language speaking and literacy skills graded?

Students are assessed at their current grade level using the appropriate grade-level standard-based report card. During parent conferences, teachers will discuss with parents and guardians the student’s current level of English proficiency as well as the student’s opportunity to learn the content and/or ability to demonstrate progress toward the appropriate grade-level standards.

"By comparing one child's performance to a clear standard, parents, students, and teachers all know
precisely what is expected. Every time a student attempts a task, the performance is compared to the
standard, not the other students' performances. The most important advantages for
students and families are fairness, clarity, and improved learning."

- Douglas B. Reeves, 101 Questions and Answers about Standards, Assessment and Accountability

*Taken in part and adapted from the Orange Board of Education