Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Not an "A" in Sight

Report cards came today. I really miss the old grading system that we had when I was a kid. It was straightforward, A through F, based mostly on tests and quizzes, or special projects. The report cards my kids get don’t make much sense to me; 1-4 with 4 being the best. I don’t know what it takes to get a 4 because none of my kids ever have.

I was a solid A student from Kindergarten right on up through senior year. The only time I didn’t get an A was when a teacher went out of his way to punish my truancy and evil attitude in some roundabout manner. Back then test scores were test scores and no amount of incorrigible behavior could alter them.

But now it seems to me that grades are based on opinion. For example I have one child that devours books, all books, books well beyond his grade level... and yet he only got a 3 for reading, and not even for all of reading because now reading is broken down into multiple line items. The same kid has consistent math test scores ranging from 90 to 105, but only got a 3 in math. Because 4 is reserved for those who exceed the standards and are above grade level. I wonder how they test for that.

And Masha’s report card, well shit... welcome to “1”s across the board. They may as well have stamped a huge red F on the report. Is this what inclusion looks like? Shouldn’t I just suck it up since I wanted her to be in with everyone else? Shouldn’t she be graded by the same standards? The real problem I have with her report card is that it doesn’t mean anything... it doesn’t tell me anything about how well she is (or is not) learning. Of course she “does not meet Common Core standards—receives support and is significantly below grade level,” but is she learning well?

Why does any of this matter to me? Because I used to love looking at my line of A’s and I know just as I got a kick out of that, my oldest son feels bad that he can never seem to get the best grade. When you are doing the best you can, and that is not enough to get you the best grade possible, what does that do to you? In time he will probably begin to believe that he is not capable of getting the best grades. I wonder if that will start to eat away at his desire to put in the effort. I want him to believe in himself, to believe that anything, any profession is possible for him.

The ability to store, process, and recall information in this life seems to be one of the keys to being able to make a path for yourself that is satisfying. I want more for my kids than to just earn a living. I want them to find careers that bring them joy and excitement, and challenges. There is no shame in non-skilled jobs, but there also seems to be not much pleasure there either. I want them to be able to have what I had... a career that eventually makes Monday mornings as interesting as Friday nights. Can you get there without the best grades? I’m sure there are ways, but the reality is that racking up top grades in school is likely the fastest way there.

Ok, yeah I know... a bunch of really smart guys skipped college and made cool lives for themselves in the tech field. And yeah, I know lots of natural artists made it without college. And I know there are plenty of people who went the college route only to end up wandering through life barely making it. So good grades and college aren’t a guarantee that you will end up making a living at something you love, but mediocre grades and no college are even less likely to lead to a satisfying career.

Back to report cards. In my mind they are little harbingers of how hard or how easy life might be for my children. I realize that they are just one facet of growing up, and that there are so many other pieces of the pie of life that lead to being a healthy, successful, and peaceful adult. But still, I miss seeing A’s.


Anna Theurer said...

I do not get that grading system at all, especially on how to get a 4. We had the usual A+ (98-100%), A (93-97) A- (90-92) grading system.

Macey said...

I have no earthly idea what to make of my kids grade school report cards either. Totally incomprehensible. And it does nobody, least of all the kid, any favors -- if my kid is, say, having problems with math I need to know about it. As a parent, I can work with my grade schooler, get her a math tutor, send her to be evaluated for learning disabilities, etc. A problem, once identified, can be FIXED. Not knowing about a problem condemns the poor kid to needless struggling. By the time my kids hit high school, the grading system returned to the A-F system that I (and you) grew up with. I was a smart but truly awful kid who only occasionally bothered to show up for high school, yet got straight As all the way through public school (plus college and grad school). The 16 yo who politely informed her AP History teacher that she'd turn in papers and write the final exam, but wouldn't be coming to class on daily basis since my time was best spent elsewhere. Horror. I was horror. And it had zero effect on my education.

My high school BFF, however, tried really hard, went to every class, handed every assignment in on time, had a pleasant demeanor and positive attitude and was all-around lovely. She was also graduated high school without the ability to write a coherent 5-paragraph essay. Because she was so lovely, all her teachers apparently gave her C+s for basically being a nice kid and turning in assignments on time. This did BFF no good -- she COULD have learned, WOULD have learned, was CAPABLE of learning had any teacher actually bothered to give her the grade she deserved.

My theory is that if your kid is in the top 10% or bottom 10% of their class they'll be fine, regardless of what public school you send them to -- they're either smart enough that bad teaching will not harm them or so far behind that the problem will be noticed (and therefore remedied). It's the kids like my BFF, the 80% in the middle who have the highest chance of falling through the cracks.


I also think As on reports cards matter enormously... and not just for getting into a good college. An A in high school means the kid was able to meet the requirements set out in the class syllabus. Period. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, doing your best isn't enough... sometimes you need to do what is required. Period. (Even if you think it's a stupid make work project). Doing what is required, to the standard you may or may not agree with that was set by a person who might have the IQ of a geranium, is an incredibly important life skill. THAT is what a kid gets from getting an A in high school.

Me said...

Are any of your children in secondary level schools? By then they typically use the letter grade system. Also--think of a 3 as an A---and a 4 as an A+. Tell your son that every 3 equals and A. So he is getting the best grade (as most schools never give out A+'s). Third--you can have it written into Masha's IEP that her grades (on the typical grading system) will be based on EFFORT not only achievement--thus her grading system on the typical grading system should be modified. You should be getting a progress report on Masha's IEP goals and objectives EVERY time you get a report card. Her progress on the IEP should better measure her actual abilities and progress. But--yes--if you prefer modified grades--you can have that written into her IEP that it will be provided by the general education teacher in her inclusive classes :) Mary P.

Farmgirl said...

I'm just going to go out on a limb and say that an A would be as meaningless as a 4. Or a 1. Or an F. Because, honestly, many of the things you want to know (and don't we all) are things that cannot be tagged with any numeric value. Even on a rubric. As a teacher, as a mother... I wish that learning was more about feeding a genuine curiosity. And that parents could each have a narrative that expressed closer to the reality of their child's day. But those narratives don't give schools the "data" they need to determine pass/fail/assistance/etc. Common Core or no Common Core, our schools have long struggled to serve this need. No kind of grading system will ever come close to solving that issue.

Janee said...

A not insignificant part of life is completing tasks to a standard set by somebody else. That's what getting good grades teaches kid.

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