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Grades: Something Else Matters

When I first started teaching, I didn't even have a computer.  Grades were recorded in a mysterious, teacher-owned blue book.  I used a point system, so every six weeks when progress reports were due, I'd grab my trusty calculator and begin the tedious task of tallying each student's points.  As a kid, I remember bringing my report card home to my mom in a sealed envelope and eagerly waiting for her to open it and share my grades with me.  It was a big deal and there was always a little mystery as to what my grades would be.
report card.gif (500×369) Fast forward to the digital age, where students and parents are privy to grades twenty-four hours a day.  At first I thought this was a good thing!  For one, I wouldn't have to spend countless hours adding up points on my calculator.  Now I am not so sure.  Students have become obsessed with points.  Some check their grades several times a day.  In fact, there is now an app that many of my students use which allows them to create a "mock" assignment to see how much an upcoming assignment will impact their grade.  I have actually heard students say things like , "I only have to get 22 out of 30 on this, and I will still have an A."  In other words," I don't need to strive for excellence.  The only thing that's important is the grade my parents and I see in the grade portal."
As a teacher, you can imagine how much this bothers me. It goes against everything I believe about learning and education.

I want to share a few stories to further explore the annoyances I've had related to grades online:

It was the second week of school.  I had given one assignment, which was for students to get a parent signature on my class syllabus. It was worth three measly  points. A particular student did not turn it in, and since it was the only assignment at that point, she had a 0% (F) in my class.  The parent sent me an email and was extremely upset as to how his daughter could be "failing" my class so early in the year.  I tried to explain that zero out of three equals zero percent, but for some reason it didn't sink in.  I also tried to explain that I was in the process of grading the first essay which was worth 30 points and that her grade would change dramatically.  He still didn't get it.  Sigh.

Just last weekend a student emailed me asking if I offered any extra credit; she wanted to raise her grade to an A.  First of all, I don't believe in giving extra credit. I believe a student's grade should be based on the work assigned in class.  Nor do I  believe students should be able to turn in unused bathroom passes for extra credit.  Is it fair that a student who can "hold it longer" can get extra points? Anyhow, I looked up her current grade and she had an A-.  Huh?  Isn't that an A?

A few years ago I was inputting grades in the grade portal for an essay assignment.  While doing so, I received an email from a parent demanding to know why her son hadn't received a grade for the assignment yet.  She wanted to know why there was a red box rather than a score.  Of course, I explained that I was sitting there putting the grades in at that very moment. She immediately calmed down.

As you can see, this is a topic that I struggle with. While I appreciate and respect students who want to do well in addition to parents who want their children to do well, I wish there could be a bit more emphasis on what the child learns, rather than the grade he receives. Some of my best students get Bs!  

I have a student in my current English class who recently submitted an essay to Turnitin.  One of the many amazing features of this site is that it checks the similarity index of the essay.  In other words, it is able to tell you how much of the essay was copied AND from where it was copied!  Amazing, huh?  Anyhow, one of my sweet students received a 70% similarity index. To put it bluntly, it was plagiarized.  Reading and writing do not come easy for her, and I know that she genuinely thought she was doing a good job. In fact, she didn't know the meaning of the word plagiarism. Rather than give her an F, I called her in to work on it one on one.  We pulled up the essay she had submitted to me.  All of the copied parts were in red.  I was able to model for her how to put things in her own words, combine ideas and change the structure of sentences.  By the time we got through the first paragraph, she was able to do it herself.  Although she will likely earn a B in my class, I am more excited about her B than other student's As.

So how can parents help?

  • Congratulate your child when he perseveres through a difficult project or assignment....even if he doesn't get an A. Regardless of the grade, the student hopefully learned something.
  • Encourage your  child to reflect on assignments or tests that they do not do well on.  Ask them how they could have been better prepared or what they could have done differently.  If a rubric was provided, encourage them to look at it and identify strengths and weaknesses. Try not to contact the teacher to demand a retake or redo.  Retakes and redos are not typical in college or in the work place.
  • Focus on what your child does well. Does he do well on presentations?  Does he do well when working in a group? Is he organized? Is he good at spelling?  Remind him of all the things he excels in.
  • Consider NOT paying your child for  grades, especially if your child has a learning disability or other special needs.  Rather, if you feel you must reward your child, consider rewarding him for completing a certain amount  of his homework in his classes or for studying for tests.  Some students try REALLY hard and will never get all As.  This does not mean they will end up a failure in life.  
  • Don't make your child's grades about YOU.  For example, instead of posting a picture of your child's  straight A report card on Facebook, tell your child that he should be very proud of himself, especially if he worked really hard to get good grades. Don't compare your kid to other kids! 
  • Remember that colleges do not just look at GRADES.  I speak from experience.  

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