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report card, grades, education, parenting

Grades are Ruining Education

by Deborah Cruz

Do you worry about your child’s grades? Last week we attended annual Parent/Teacher conferences for our girls. They are always fairly uneventful. We go, the teachers tell us how good our girls are doing and we all go home and pat ourselves on the back. There are never any surprises.

We usually have a report card for the first quarter in hand before we ever meet with the teachers. It’s hard to argue with high honors. Mind you, we don’t necessarily want constant approval. In fact, I think parent/teacher conferences should be like managerial review meetings. Tell me 3 great things about child and then give her 2 goals of improvement to work towards. I want my child to feel challenged, not complacent because I know complacency and boredom is a recipe for trouble and failure in the long run.

This year my daughter’s 5th grade teacher threw us a curveball. She had our girl assess herself. Not surprising, my daughter marked herself “average” on all accounts. Average because we have expectations for her education that are based on more than just grades. Our expectations include love of learning, understanding concepts and being challenged. Grades are just a superficial quantification of learning. We know this.

I was raised to always strive for my best. I competed with myself. I still do because my toughest competition is myself and I want to be motivated by myself not out of envy or jealousy of someone else, it’s not healthy. This is what I have instilled in my girls. This is what my parents instilled in me.

Do grades really quantify an education?

When I was a child, I remember bringing home straight A’s and my dad asking why they were not all A+s. I remember feeling deflated. This turned me into a perfectionist and left me feeling unsatisfied in a lot of ways because I always felt like I let myself down and worse like I had let my parents down. I never wanted my girls to feel that way.

I never ask why a grade is not better. I am always proud of them and I ask them why they think a grade is what it is but mostly I just keep my eye on it and make sure that I put a little extra time in reviewing homework so I can find out and gently help them gain confidence and mastery in whatever the deficit or concept that is lacking is in. This has worked pretty well for us. I know that there is more that I can do but, for now, this is how the Big Guy and I address grades.

Imagine my surprise at the parent/teacher conference when the aforementioned 5th grade teacher, chuckled at my daughter when she answered “average” and then corrected her by saying, “if the other students listened/paid attention even 1/3 as much as you do you do, I would be happy. You, my dear, are most certainly “Above average!” My daughter looked confused, as was I.

I know, you are thinking, just shut up and be happy but what you don’t realize are few things 1) I was getting my masters in early education when I had my first child 2) I worked in education for 10 years 3) that teacher just completely undermined the expectations we had set for our daughter 4) in an instant, the teacher has lowered my daughter’s expectations for herself by making her effort seem overdone.

I’ve never liked rating/grading scales in education because really, what do they measure? It’s a moving scale. This is why we put in place expectations of our children, other than grades themselves. I want my children to feel proud and accomplished for thinking, for learning for craving more knowledge. It’s not just about a grade. I don’t want my children to be afraid to feel challenged. I want them to be exhilarated by it.

And before you start thinking I’m one of those mom’s who thinks their children are “gifted”, I don’t. I do think they are smart and capable of more than the expectations the school is setting for them. Of course the school is only responsible for passing grades, it’s my job as their mother to advocate for them and teach them to expect more from themselves than just “average”.

My daughter said, “average” because she knows that the effort that she is giving is not her best. Granted maybe a well-behaved child, who listens, pays attention and engages 97% of the time is better than the average student for that teacher, but it is not better than my daughter’s average and my daughter knows that.

I found myself to be completely annoyed by this teacher. I think she could have told my daughter that she thinks she is doing great without going so far as to say, “compared to the other students” because I’ve not taught my daughters to give a flip about what others are doing. I don’t teach my daughters to gauge their success by someone else’s failures only by their own feeling of satisfaction.

As a mom, I believe my number one purpose is to love my daughters but it is also my responsibility to encourage them to go after their dreams, honor their commitments and think for themselves. I’m doing my best but it’s hard because parenting is not an exact science.

What do you think? Do our expectations for our children distort their expectations of themselves? Is it better to encourage our children to strive for their own personal best?

How important do you think grades are to your child’s education?


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