This is report card week at my school. I’m on the “other side” now. I’m the one who sends home the report that either instills pride or disbelief. The kindergarten curriculum is a shock to most parents. Try to remember what you did in first grade, or even second grade. That’s what we do in kindergarten today. We have work stations and centers and reading groups and study buddies. We teach science, social studies, art, languages, phonics, reading, handwriting, math, health, motor skills, and music. And we have tests! Lots of tests. Each nine weeks all this is distilled into a report for parents. Of course the report isn’t subjective. It’s based on passing a set of skills required by the state. It’s calculated and generated by computer software. We don’t even have A’s, B’s, and C’s anymore. We have percentages and the determination of “skill mastered”, “working on mastery”, or “not mastered”. A lot for parents to comprehend, especially if they grew up with handwritten letters on a small folded card.
I still have several of my report cards. Remarkable when you think about how many schools I attended. Of course sometimes I wasn’t at a school long enough to get a report card. Perhaps that’s why the ones I kept seem special now. They are proof that I did indeed stay in one spot long enough to be tested, long enough to have a record of my presence.
I was always a good student and loved school. I usually had a good report card with lots of A’s and B’s, but I remember a C or two. I had a difficult time keeping up with math concepts between moves. What usually upset me weren’t the grades, but the teacher comments. “Mary is a good student but…” That was usually followed by something to do with talking! Some things never change.
I even got an F in college, though technically it was for my failure to withdraw from the class when I moved. I didn’t think it was that important at the time, but years later when I was much more interested in my GPA again, I had to make up the class with an A.
I have two of my dad’s report cards. He made a C in American History and a D in Spanish. My, my if only I had known that when I made that C in geometry! Because when your parents expect you to do well in everything, and you don’t, it can be difficult to drag home that heavy report card and ask your parents to sign it. Then you get “the speech” about doing your best and paying attention. I also had the privilege of staying after school each afternoon for weeks until I caught up and improved my grade. Now I realize how lucky I was to have had a teacher who was willing to do that for me!
Most report cards do become the catalyst for a set of consequences, some good, some bad. A lot of parents like to go beyond praise and give their children something tangible for each grade earned or each improvement made. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Each child is different. I can honestly remember thinking my parents were a little gullible to gush over my reading grades when I would have gladly given up food to read a book! On the other hand, math was so difficult that a reward for every ½ grade point would have been appreciated and deserved! Instead my parents were of the opinion that reading, writing, and arithmetic were somehow equal parts of the whole and I’d better get the same grade for each.
I hope we don’t make the same mistake. I hope we have learned that children are different and have diverse learning styles and speeds. They have unique abilities. A report card is only one tool, one way of measuring a child’s abilities and behaviors. We have to keep improving our assessment techniques. We have to keep finding better ways to help children learn.
If your child brings home a report card that delights or disappoints you, try to keep your perspective about the child who earned those grades. Make sure you understand the “why” and the “how” behind those little letters or percentages. Make sure you know which subject was second nature and which one was a struggle. And before you judge too harshly, drag out your old report cards. They may surprise you!