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Continued: The grading system receives an ‘F’ for failure!

Lastly, there is something gravely amiss with the conventional grading system, and it doesn’t seem like anyone plans to address it anytime soon. It defies mathematical logic and actually sets our children up to fail. And, it doesn’t take a math degree to figure it out. Here it is in brief:

Most everyone is familiar with the conventional grading system; The first four grades A through D, are distanced by proportional increments of 10 points.  The point distribution between D and F, on the other hand, extends from 0 to 59. The F is 50 plus points away from the next highest grade! So, when a child misses one assignment and is awarded a zero in the grade book, their grade average takes a substantial and inequitable dive. Add to this, the bogus practice of averaging, well, it’s almost impossible for a child who misses a few assignments to remain above water. Take a look:

100  100  100  100  100  (oopsy, missed this one) 0  = 83% or a B-

Does this accurately depict this particular student’s ability to grasp the concepts presented? No, it does not. In addition consider the fact that with this system the child who does not turn in an assignment is thought to deserve a more harsh penalty than the student who submits shoddy work and receives a grade of D. There are easy fixes for this faulty system and if you are interested in learning more, please check out The Case Against Zero.

Lastly, we need to remember that even when students are evaluated fairly and accurately, grades are simply an indicator of academic understanding and are not to be regarded as our child’s ‘goodness’ meter.

Love-centered, not punishment-centered

If we respond with punishment, rewards, shame, blame, etc. based on letter grades provided by relative strangers, then that’s exactly what we are doing—judging worthiness. In what other ways might we as parents assess our children’s growth both as a student and also as a growing human being?

As always, love-centered conversation and use of purposeful questioning is a great place to start. Here are some helpful conversation starters.

  • I see you received a D in Science.
  • Are you surprised or did you expect this?
  • Tell me more about what goes on in Science class.
  • Do you do well on the tests?
  • Are you having trouble getting homework completed on time?
  • Do you need more help?
  • In what ways could we help you?

Regardless of what your child has to say, it is imperative that we as parents respond with unconditional love. If it turns out that it is necessary to put some restrictions in place or provide help with time management in order to improve academic growth, then we should do so, but in a nurturing non-coercive manner.

And to help avoid the shock factor of report cards, why wait until grading time to ask such questions? We may also want to include open-ended questions regarding non-academic variables that impact school performance.

  • What part of the day is most fun, interesting to you?
  • What makes your favorite class so great?
  • What kinds of things do your favorite teachers do to help you feel comfortable?
  • How do students seem to treat each other this year at school?
  • If there was one thing you could change about your school to make it better what would it be?

Consistency is key

So, the next time the report card comes rolling around, please take all of this information into consideration. The inconsistency in grading practice across classrooms, the inclusion of non-academic factors potentially tainting the grade, the bogus practice of averaging, and the mathematically unsound system of the conventional A through F grading system.

And regardless of whether you are pleased or displeased with what you see on the report, try to remain calm. After all, in addition to being providers of nurturing assistance, we are also our child’s greatest model for healthy emotional regulation.

Most importantly, our children need to know that our admiration and love for them is unconditional. We are here to nurture and guide, and no family privileges or opportunities should be contingent upon the extent of mastery in academic performance. Your child is an expansive and beautiful creation packed with a unique constellation of gifts, talents, and desires. How can any of this possibly be quantified with a grade— let alone a letter!

About the author

Kate MartinKate Martin has been a high school teacher for 27 years and retired from the Racine Unified School District in 2015. 

She taught students with special needs as well as those in general education. While working with hundreds of parents over the years, she discovered that there was a significant lack of resources and educational opportunities to help them navigate the many demands of parenting today. For this reason, in 2013 she founded The Purposeful Parent, offering workshops and resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers.

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