Your child’s grade report is right around the corner. What will you do when you see the grades?

Will you reward your child for obtaining As and Bs? Will you punish him for those nasty Ds and Fs? Is a grade of C admissible because it is passing at an average level or are Cs considered highly unacceptable in your home? Is the extent of privilege and opportunity awarded your child highly dependent on the outcome at grading time? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you may want to sit back, relax and read a bit about the grading system on which your child is evaluated.

Grades are overrated. Yep, you heard me right. Slow down, I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of no grades and that everybody needs to get a participation trophy — boy oh boy, the times I’ve heard that one. It is imperative that students receive feedback regarding their academic progress. But I also believe parents have the right to know that the conventional system of grading is deeply flawed, illogical and can actually set many children up for failure.

First of all, grades continue to be left almost entirely to teacher discretion. Although there are some general guidelines provided, in most schools teachers have the liberty of setting the criteria and requirements that reflect their priorities and preferences. I have come in contact with so many fine teachers who are scrupulous when it comes to being fair with grading.

Why is this a problem then, you ask? Well, it doesn’t seem ethical to have so little regulation or an established standard practice for something where the stakes are so high for our children especially in the upper grades where college enrollment options are often contingent upon grade reports.

Historically teacher discretion has allowed individuals to engage in practices that can and do taint the student’s true grade. A letter grade in academics by all definitions is intended to reflect the extent of mastery of a particular area of study. However, when components such as participation, effort, attitude, behavior, cooperation, all of which are difficult to quantify and none of which are directly related to acquisition of knowledge are included in the average, it muddies the results. These are most certainly variables that influence success, but it is best to evaluate and address them separately and outside of the academic grade of mastery.

Secondly, the fact that most schools continue to use the system of ‘averaging’ scores seems preposterous. Some argue that athletes average scores as a regular practice, so why not our students? A professional athlete’s point average is based on game day performance, not practice. Yet, in many classrooms, little care is taken to remove practice attempts from the final assessments. Assessments are often weighted but practice is still included.

In addition, in the real world, you will rarely find institutions using averaging as a means of measuring the extent of learning. Success is measured by attainment of skills. Imagine if when retaking the test for your driver’s license the DMV averaged the score of your previous three attempts that each resulted in failure. Your driver’s license would be withheld because of your weak practice record.  If practice makes perfect, why are we averaging the two?

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About the author

Kate 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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