Thursday, March 23, 2006

Making the grade

Report card. Just those words probably conjure up a myriad of feelings (physical and emotional!) in your household. I still get that throw-up feeling when I reminisce about grades....bleech. Each of us bears the imprint -- and perhaps scars -- of our own personal experience as a student who at least twice each school year received the envelope that would validate hard work and effort, reveal to all academic shortcomings, or perhaps even crush the spirit.

Opening that envelope as a parent is something different altogether. Tomorrow (report-card day at JIS), we carry the weight not only of our own past experiences with grades, but the hopes, expectations, and perceptions of our children. Sometimes it helps to just sit back and take a deep breath -- and give your kids a big hug! Grades are an important measurement tool, but they don't define our children! I think back to a boy at my high school who failed pretty much every class, but went on to be a big-time producer in Hollywood.... I'm sure his parents would have preferred good grades to Fs, but in the end, he turned out great.

If the news at your house tomorrow isn't good, there are resources. Check out the (very unfortunately named) Mom Central website and its common sense article on "Handling the Problematic Report Card." It's a great starting point. If you don't mind wading through the ads, has a good page on the disasterous report card -- including tips for working with your child's teachers. And "Responding to the Bad Report Card" on offers up some logical pointers when you need to confront this difficult situation.

At the end of the day, I try to remember the wise-beyond-his-years words of one of my own high school students: "Grades ain't nothin' but a number, baby...."


At 12:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My son made all F's in a subject last year and this year he is making an A+ in the same subject. What can it mean?

As Cheryl's posting suggests, grades NEVER measure a person's potential -- not in life and not in a given subject.

Too often, grades are a ritual labeling exercise rather than feedback that actively informs the behavior of teachers, students, and parents.

For assessment to be used in this dynamic way, a school must be prepared to accommodate individual needs, ranging from learning differences to learning styles. For example, all students favor one or more forms of sensory input over others such as the visual, the auditory, or the kinestetic.

JIS is in its second year of building capacity for differentiated instruction, a hot topic in education. The main goal of the programme is to help teachers recognize that it is okay to treat children differently because they learn differently. Faculty are expected to employ diverse teaching strategies in developing and implementing curriculum unit plans.

I believe the dramatic change in my son's grades is a testament to his courage and commitment.

I hope the change reflects well on our parenting. We try to strike a delicate balance between cherishing him for who he is while not closing any doors on who he might become.

As much as anything, however, I'm persuaded the change reflects his current teacher's commitment to differentiated instruction.

Onward, JIS! And onward parents in engaging Council, adminstrators, and faculty in dialogues that will help to ensure that grades and other forms of assessment (such as ISA) have an impact on teaching practices.

At 6:32 AM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Thanks for your great comment! If you haven't seen it already, check out It's an online newsletter, and the latest issue focuses on grading.

Big Ideas is the brainchild of Grant Wiggins, the father of "Understanding By Design" -- the concept that curriculum should be designed backwards, starting with setting the assessment (or "what you want the students to be able to do at the end of the day") and then figuring out how to get students to that point.

You can sign up for a free trial membership of Big Ideas. I'm hoping JIS might consider signing up for a community membership -- wouldn't that be great? JIS uses Wiggin's book as part of its curriculum development program, so it would be a super resource for parents, teachers, and administrators!


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