When I was in elementary school, I distinctly remember earning ‘letter’ grades. In fact, I also remember the occasional—OK, frequent—parental lecture that went along with my C-quality work. To mom and dad, my ‘average’ marks signified that I was “not working to my fullest potential.”
Things have really changed in modern-day education. My elementary age kids do not earn traditional grades; rather, their school uses a standards-based approach, which consists of telling students that their skills are emerging, satisfactory or exceeding expectations. Interestingly, educators have long debated the merits of a standards-based evaluation system versus the traditional letter-grade approach.
Most professionals tend to prefer the newer, modern-day methodology because evaluation is based on a clearly defined set of standards, as opposed to a more subjective teacher-generated letter grade. Further, it has been validated that younger kids are not motivated to study harder when given a letter grade; rather, they look for easier assignments so they can score a better mark.
Parents typically are frustrated when their children do not meet expectations, and this new standard of evaluation can be confusing. Some students score low marks because they are disorganized, have difficulty communicating their knowledge, and/or need additional assistance. Others, however, may be on the verge of a light-bulb moment and about to master the content. Don’t panic; instead, consult with the classroom teacher for additional insight and strategies that can assist with building your student’s educational development. Furthermore, parents should make sure they truly understand the grading system because most schools provide different marks for mastery, attitude and behavior.
To ensure the best possible performance, speak with your kids in an age-appropriate manner about academics. Interestingly, younger kids often are mystified about how grades are determined—sometimes assuming they are based on luck or magic. Parents should communicate that good grades are a result of hard work without focusing too much on the actual outcome. When excessive emphasis is placed on a final score, younger children often develop premature anxiety about school performance.
As students enter middle school, the grading system changes to a more traditional ‘letter’ system. Kids also start to understand the importance of doing well as they wonder about what it takes to be successful. However, some question if middle school marks matter because colleges will not see them. While that is true, grades still are important because they impact what classes a student takes in high school. Additionally, a large number of St. Louis students attend private preparatory schools and an academic record review is part of the admission process.
If a family has not done so, middle school is the time to instill proper motivation. Create a family culture that values hard work by celebrating good grades received on papers or projects, not just high scores on report cards. This doesn’t mean buying the latest video game or paying for As, instead bake a special dessert or go out to a fun family dinner, making the hard-earned grade a celebratory event. Emphasize that you are just as proud of the process as you are of the high mark.
In high school, academic measurement becomes even more confusing with GPAs, weighted grades and AP curriculums. Furthermore, your child may actually work very hard at a difficult subject only to receive a low mark. Examine effort and attitude before criticizing a performance. Have a conversation about why your student is struggling, and ask what can be done differently to improve the situation. Being supportive can build confidence and teach students to understand both when and how to seek assistance. That lesson often is more valuable than a high test grade.
Good grades can have a rewarding effect on any student. Earning a C in trigonometry; however, does not doom one to a life of underachievement and minimum wage. Yes, grades do provide valuable insight into a student’s proficiency, but keeping scores in perspective is the key to creating a child who is a lifelong learner. To earn high marks as a parent, teach your children to celebrate successes, understand failures, and work to the best of their ability.