Understanding Your Child's Grades
Q. I was fine with the
traditional letter grades: A, B, C, D and F.
Everybody understood what they meant. Now grades have become so
complicated, and there are so many unfamiliar words teachers use now to
describe the grades, that it's confusing. Isn't the whole point of grades to
communicate clearly to the parents and the student how things are going?
yes. Straight "A's" still mean something to parents, and so do "F's." But these
are not your father's "A's" or "F's." In the 1990s, public schools in this
country changed from a traditional style to a more systematic one known as
"outcome-based education." The basis for grades shifted from the individual
teacher's professional opinion, to governmental learning standards that have
been developed through the political process.
out of the federal education law, Goals 2000, which mandated that schools
should measure what students know and are able to do. A lot of the changes this
new approach created are beneficial, but some are viewed as detrimental. The
basic complaint: overstandardization and overregulation of the educational
process, including how grades are determined. Consequently, there has been a
good deal of misunderstanding as parents struggle to understand all the
educational jargon that has come with the changes in the grading system. You
are not alone!
we call an educational "outcome" a "standard," instead. So we have
"standards-based" grading. A "standard" is something that a student should
know, or be able to do. Think of a "standard" as a "learning expectation." Educators
"codified," or put into a code, all the things that we want children to learn
in each subject at each grade level.
standards not only changed the grading system and report cards, but also the
way educators use the assessment process. An "assessment" is a judgment of
value; you know that from having your house assessed for taxes. With the
standards-based changes of the 1990s, we moved to "assessing" our students,
rather than testing them. It has to do with how well we think they'll do in the
work world, on down the line.
us from agricultural states know that "standard," in the beef business, is a
grade of beef "below good." It's kind of like "C"-rated beef. Using that
analogy, today's "standards" of learning are sort of like the level of academic
work that used to rate a "C." So when a grade indicates that your child has
received an "A" in a subject, thereby meeting the standards, you have to
realize that really, what your child has mastered used to be considered "C"
course, veteran teachers still know "A" work from "C" work, and there are
checks and balances in place in most districts. Classroom test and quiz scores
are still part of the overall grade, along with homework, writing samples,
projects, class participation and so forth. Much of schooling is still quite
rigorous in most districts.
But it is
more possible now than ever that a student might "look good on paper," but not
really be excelling as much as the grade might suggest, because the student is
just able to comply with a standardized learning system that puts the accent
more on the form than the substance.
Homework: Here's good advice for talking with
your child about bad grades: