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After visiting a school that has made a concerted effort to change how they evaluate their students, I started thinking about the grades teachers give to students. If a student gets a C at the end of the quarter, what does that really mean? Generally, a C means average. So a C should be an acceptable grade. Most students should get a C. But parents expect their children to get A’s and B’s. Here is a different way to think about grades.
One path to the average C is that Adanna, a hard worker, starts out early in the quarter getting very low grades because she is struggling to learn the concepts. Then about the middle of the quarter, because of her hard work, she brings her grades up to C’s. By the end of the quarter she gets very high grades because she finally gets it. If you think about it, the high grades at the end of the quarter show that she actually learned what was expected of her. But because at the beginning of the quarter she did not understand the concepts, her final grade reflects the earlier struggle.
A second path to the average C is demonstrated by Brian, who generally doesn’t work very hard on schoolwork. He is really interested in sports and just wants to maintain a C so he can stay on the football team. Brian could be getting higher grades, but he produces average work for everything—homework, projects, and tests. At the end of the quarter, Brian gets the same grade as Adanna, even though Adanna really understands the concepts much better than Brian does.
This explains why grades don’t tell the whole story. Learning is what is important. How much did Adanna and Brian learn? Can they use their learning to solve new problems and learn new concepts? Are they ready for the next steps? The answers to these questions are so much more important than the grade they made on their report card.
As a parent, you might want to look often at the work your son or daughter is doing. Keep track of their daily journey. What you want to see is progress toward understanding. This is a better indicator of learning than the final grade on the report card. Learning is what is supposed to be happening in school. The final grade cannot tell you how much learning went on.