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The Challenge of Report Cards

Right now I should be working on my report cards. Adding up the test scores, and assignments to create a percentage is easy. All that is required is a simple letter grade that corresponds to a percentage number. But what does that letter grade truly tell a parent or a student about their childís ability to read? Granted an A or D speak volumes. They say excellence or very substandard performance. An A is cause for celebration. It means or should mean that reading is strength. A D on the other hand is cause for great alarm. It should tell both the parent and the teacher that something new must be done. Outside remediation is required, or a resource specialist must be consulted.

My problem is not with the A or the D. My problem is with all those other confusing grades in the middle. What does a B in reading mean?

One of my private clients is in fourth grade. When I started working with him this summer, he didnít know any of his short vowels. He had no idea that letters make sounds. His only strategy for reading is guessing, or sitting next to the smartest student so that he can help him. I have given him the tools he needs to start decoding on his own, but I recently learned that he never visualizes when he reads or is read to. This means he has no idea what he is reading. He canít remember anything he read.

I recently saw this studentís report card. He has a B in reading. I know that in five months I have not created a B student. So why didnít he get the D that he deserves?

I have a couple of theories.

1. He is in special education and perhaps his resource teacher feels that for the modified work that she is requiring, he is doing B level work. This is the best possible answer. However nowhere on the report card does it note that he is in a modified program.

2. His teacher is worried that if she gives a lower grade, his parents will be upset and say that the low grade is hurting the childís self-esteem. I am all for promoting self-esteem. I think that confidence is so important in school, but I am not in favor of lying. If a student is doing poorly, have the courage to say so. A low grade isnít a punishment. It is awake up call for change and action. The struggling students already know that they are behind. Very rarely have I ever met a student who is truly surprised by a bad grade.

3. The teacher is afraid to give the bad grade, because that will open her self up for criticism from the parents or the school. If this is the case, I feel for this teacher. I have had principals get angry with me for telling parents the truth. I have had parents get even angrier for suggesting that their child isnít working up to grade level.

It is so hard to put one letter grade, for 8 weeks worth of work. What exactly does a B- say? Does that one letter tell a parent, ďYour childís reading skills concern me?Ē He needs to practice more at home. I know that you arenít reading 20 minutes a night, but he is in a classroom with other students who are doing the nightly reading. And while the gap isnít so big now, by the end of the year it will be huge?Ē

What exactly does a C mean? Is it still average? If that is the case then the majority of the students should be getting Cs, but I will tell you that I have rarely seen a group of report cards filled with Cs. I know it is popular to say that 40, is the new 30. Well in education, B is the new C.

Now it is time for me to find away to explain what my letter grades mean. Iím fortune that I only have to do report cards for 8 students and I can include a written narrative that truly explains what I mean by B-. I know that teachers who have 35 or 135 students this is impossible. My only advice for those teachers, is to use conference time wisely. Donít be afraid to voice your honest concerns. Iíve been in those bad conferences. I know it is much easier to have a conference when everything is going great. But your students need you to have the courage to be honest. For parents who receive just letter grades, my advice is the same. Ask what does a B mean? And find out the true meaning of that simple letter.

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