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My spouse and I are teachers, and we do not share report cards with our kids (yet). I have written out hundreds of interim and final grades in my high school teaching career. I always carefully consider how my marks will come across to students and families. But when my children's grades come home, I look them over briefly and move on. If my 4th grader wants to know, we give him the gist and note anything interesting—usually noted strengths. My other child is in kindergarten and is unaware of report cards. We will leave it that way a while longer."We tell our kids that tests give us some information but that no test defines the qualities of a whole person" Why I Don't Show My 4th Grader His Grades Click To Tweet
Learning is the Point, Not Grades
The teachers in my children's lives give us daily opportunities to see what the kids accomplish or areas in which they are struggling. This allows us to deemphasize the summative report that comes quarterly. Technology plays a key role in this two-way communication with school apps and email. But not all teachers can devote equal time to these technologies and communications. Report cards may be more important when other communications are more scarce. To some extent, it's a privilege for me as a teacher who can connect easily with other teachers to be so casual about report cards.
But as it is in my household, we tell our children that their learning is the point, not their grades. We tell our kids that tests give us some information but that no test defines the qualities of a whole person (even when they come out with high scores). We don't use grades for rewards or punishments. If we treat report card time as a large event of importance, we risk undermining our own effort to put grades where they belong, as part of assessment and not as a sign of success or failure. If something pops up on a report card that we don't expect, we go to the teacher first to find out more. We only include our son in the discussion later, after some processing and planning.
Grades Can Become a Distraction
Another benefit of my child not knowing specifics about his grades is that he can't use them to compare himself to others in his class or school. This ranking may develop a purpose in high school or college (should he go onto college). I see no reason to employ it at an age where he is growing more and more sensitive as to how fast he writes compared to his classmates or how much "better" other people are in art class, as he sees it. If he saw his grades, he could use them as data to confirm his bias and forget his strengths. If we see a strength noted on the report card, we make sure to tell him. We also share when such comments come through the class app or an email. We treat strengths and areas for improvement similarly—we note them and find ways to build on them."There are many ways that report cards can change to be more meaningful and relevant to our ever-changing world." Why I Don't Show My 4th Grader His Grades Click To Tweet
It's Time To Rethinking Grading
My family should not be alone in our healthy skepticism of grades. It's time for all of us to take a fresh look at a dated system. As a society, we tend to treat grades as a time-honored, objective gauge for how our children are learning. Still, it is only when we fully understand the context of grades that they can be much more insightful. Standards for grading change over time. The A-F grading system emerged as the number of students in classrooms increased, and compulsory attendance was mandated. At the time, a streamlined system became more desirable to communicate information to children and families who had no email, class apps, or access to our current information and communication highways.
Today, each school system adopts its own scales that differ from place to place, generation to generation. To interpret grades on a report card, you need to know the number scales and meanings of the assessment terms for each school. When I was growing up in the 1990s, my high school graded using letters A through E. Typically, we skip E and use F to represent the word "Fail." It is a strange habit that we have all come to accept to emphasize the F for fail. We should not accept tradition in grading as best practice. We cannot assume that letter grades communicate what they did one or two generations prior. Furthermore report cards do not need to be the center of communication between classrooms and homes.
Education needs to adapt to society and modern challenges. Even if we keep letter grades, there are many ways that report cards can change to be more meaningful and relevant to our ever-changing world. The ways we use grading should adapt to major world events, such as a pandemic and mass movements of refugees. The next generation should learn differently and be assessed differently from the previous generations. We must keep grade cards in their context as one expression to measure learning growth, steeped in tradition, and not the measure of success and failure of young people.
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