Sharing Thoughts on Grades with Parents
Blogger's Note: In an attempt to address the tendency in today's world to forget that letter grades aren't as important as learning, I whipped up a few thoughts on grades and shared them with my parents on our classroom blog.
Thought you might like to see it. Hope it helps.
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Recently, a mom on our team dropped me a line asking for some honest thoughts about letter grades.
Specifically, she was interested in knowing how to balance rewards
for As and Bs versus punishments for Cs, Ds and Fs on the practice
(formative) tasks that don’t count heavily against a child’s average.
To her, grades lower than a B are never acceptable even if they are on
practice tasks, but to her child, formative tasks just aren’t important
because they don’t have a big impact on overall averages.
The result is a constant tension between mom and her child over low scores.
I’ve been thinking about her question for a few weeks now and thought
you might be interested in hearing my take on this.
The way I see it,
there are three important points for parents in similar circumstances to
keep in mind:
Remember that grades are SUPPOSED to give you feedback about what your child knows and can do:
One of the mistakes that middle school parents often make is placing
TOO much emphasis on letter grades and not enough emphasis on whether or
not their children are mastering essential knowledge and skills.
simple truth is that “making the All A Honor Roll” isn’t NEARLY as
important as having a sense for whether or not your child has a firm
grasp of grade level content and a firm mastery of grade level skills.
That means it might be useful to spend less time looking at overall
averages and more time looking at scores on individual tasks because
scores on individual tasks will give you a better sense for which
concepts your child has mastered and which concepts your child has yet
to demonstrate mastery of.
That’s the kind of information that really
And as strange as it may seem, that means the LOW grades you find in
SPAN are actually MORE valuable to you as a parent because they give you
MORE information about where to focus your time and energy.
being angry about a score that doesn’t meet your expectations, use that
score as a starting point for conversations with your child.
If you think a reward/punishment system for grades is needed in your
home, those low grades are also a GREAT tool. Just because they don’t
have a huge impact on your child’s overall average doesn’t mean that
they are unimportant.
They really ARE reflective of your child’s
mastery of key concepts and skills — so if you aren’t satisfied with the
score, set the expectation in your house that any low score will be
Whether teachers and or teams grade those reworks is really
irrelevant. Have your child complete extra practice problems or write
another essay. Ask the teacher for textbooks and/or workbooks — and
assign extra practice to your child whenever you aren’t happy with the
levels of mastery that they’ve demonstrated.
If your child KNOWS what he/she is doing and just isn’t applying
themselves — which is pretty common for middle schoolers — that will end
the first time that they lose time with friends because they didn’t try
hard enough on an easy assignment.
If your child DOESN’T KNOW what
he/she is doing, you’ll be giving them the additional practice that they
need in order to master concepts that matter.
Remember that grades shouldn’t be the ONLY indicator that you use to judge just what your student knows and can do:
One of the sad truths about public schools is that teachers serve
TONS of students.
That means the level of targeted feedback that we CAN
give your child on individual skills is far less than we’d LIKE to be
able to give — especially in classes like language arts, social studies
and science where “demonstrating mastery” depends on students giving
detailed explanations for their thinking.
In my class, for example, we’ve only had 8 graded tasks so far this
quarter. That’s largely because grading one set of 140 papers can take
10-15 hours even when I’m using a rubric to give a small bit of feedback
to each child. With 65 minutes of planning per day, each assignment
can take up to two weeks to grade.
That means (1). that teachers are forced to give fewer assignments,
(2). that teachers are forced to give less feedback on assignments
and/or (3). teachers are forced to give low level assignments that can
be graded quickly.
The lesson for parents: Grades shouldn’t be the ONLY indicator that
you use when trying to judge the ability of your child. Sit down and
have a conversation with them about the concepts listed on our unit overview sheets.
Ask them to answer the essential questions listed at the top of each
unit overview sheet. Ask them to complete the tasks listed at the end
of each I Can Statement.
You might discover that your child knows more than you thought they
did — and more than their grade actually shows — about the key concepts
that we’re studying.
Similarly, you might find that they know less than
you thought they did — and less than their grade actually shows — about
the key concepts that we’re studying.
Either way, keep in mind that -- as educational thought leader Dean Shareski explains -- the actual letter that ends up on your
child’s report card only represents the small sliver of content that
teachers can actually give feedback on during a quarter.
Remember that developing solid work behaviors REALLY IS just as important as making As and Bs:
One of the truths that I’ve learned after 20 years of teaching middle
school in Western Wake County is that the majority of the students on
our academic team will walk out of my classroom with an above average to
superior understanding of the concepts that we’re studying — but that
DOESN’T mean that the vast majority of students will always make As and
Bs on their report cards.
That’s for one simple reason: Middle schoolers are still learning to master key work behaviors.
Things like putting high levels of effort into every task, turning in
every task on time, and being an active participant in every
conversation that happens in every class every day just doesn’t come
naturally to kids.
That determination to excel moment-by-moment — intellectual grit, so to speak — isn’t always an automatic part of their nature yet.
Which is why it is JUST as important to monitor and celebrate and
give your child feedback on mastery of key work behaviors as it is to
monitor and celebrate the grades that they’re earning.
As teachers, we give this feedback once per quarter using this work behaviors rubric.
It comes home with your child’s report card — and we think it is
actually MORE important than their academic grades and/or Honor Roll
status. The simple truth is that your kids are all capable. Their
success is less a factor of their ability and more a factor of their
determination to apply themselves.
When my daughter is old enough, I’m going to use this rubric to rate
her work behaviors around the house — her completion of chores, her
completion of homework, her interactions with my wife and I — on a
And if there’s ever a need for a reward and/or
consequence system to motivate her, it will be based on the ratings on
this rubric INSTEAD of her letter grades.
The way that I figure, students who master key work behaviors are the
same students who are going to make As and end up on the Honor Roll
The work behavior rubric gives me the opportunity to really
target the kinds of specific behaviors that are interfering with my
child’s academic performance.
I guess what I’m saying is that letter grades —
especially in middle school where students aren’t building an academic
transcript that will determine whether or not they can get into the
right college — are probably less important than we think they are.
The ultimate goal for a middle schooler should be to master key
concepts, skills and behaviors.
To that extent, grades that are lower
than you’d like them to be are actually MORE helpful because they cast a
light on potential weaknesses — either in content knowledge or in the
development of the kinds of behaviors that define successful individuals
— that you can encourage your child to focus on and polish.
Hope this helps,