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And the envelopes, please

Today, the Pinellas County school system's 44,631 elementary pupils will bring home new report cards that officials hope parents find less cluttered and confusing. "We were trying to simplify it so it would be more meaningful for parents," said school system spokesman Tracy Pierce, who helped design the new cards. "The old cards had many different things to look at and compare. I think the messages we were sending home were a little confusing."

Previously, first- through fifth-graders received the same report cards although they were on different grading systems. First- and second-graders now will bring home a different card from the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. Kindergarteners always have received separate report cards.

Some marking codes also have been changed.

Under those code changes, kindergarteners and first- and second-graders receive in all areas either E for "excellent," S for "satisfactory," U for "unsatisfactory" or NG for "no grade." The NG code means a student has been unable to perform physically in the subject area, has missed at least 20 days of school during a nine-week grading period or has other extenuating circumstances, Pierce said.

Kindergarteners also could receive an N for "in the process of learning" and first- and second-graders could receive an N for "needs improvement."

The top code previously was a V for "very good," the N code was called NI for "needs improvement," and the NG code was called NA for "not applicable."

Pupils in third, fourth and fifth grades receive those marks in non-academic areas such as work habits, but continue to receive traditional letter grades for academic work.

Children no longer will receive a separate spelling grade because of a new elementary reading and language arts program. Spelling instead is included in the grade for writing, said Marion Plinchcinski, director of pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade academic programs.

"The (spelling) emphasis is not just on rote for memorization, but application of spelling in the writing, so spelling is part of the writing grade," Plinchcinski said.

The new reading and language arts curriculum is structured so children change reading groups periodically to prevent them from being pigeonholed. With the old model, pupils were placed in groups based on ability.