You’ll see some of playwright David Mamet’s ideas in here about Acting School. His ideas are really applicable to our industrial public school model. Apologies in advance for any pedantry or hyperbolic statements in the following. I dislike the former and am prone to the latter, especially after a cup of coffee. But hey, it’s a blog, so take it with a grain of salt. (Mamet would never apologize.)
I always have lots of questions about report cards, so hopefully I can clarify some things in advance. RCs are nebulous, inky, opaque. About report cards: for my students I quote Mamet quoting the stoics, “work hard for your own good opinion of yourself.”
I find RCs confusing and I’m guessing they are made by non-teachers. I also believe in meeting student where they are at and working with what they bring to class. RCs ask me to force a student along faster than perhaps they are ready. From learning the drums I understand the 10,000 hours rule. Everyone needs time to learn and the right conditions. I can’t help but feel that grades are another tool of gate-keeping, and when a student becomes older, a tool used to deny the underprivileged a proper education (a human right). In second grade they are not a gate-keeping instrument. Grades are blunt tool for a complex situation: the individual learner.
As a teacher, I am most concerned about a student’s effort, curiosity, ability to work with others, and evidence of personal growth. I struggle defining my students within state and district metrics, both of which can reveal some good information about a student but hardly recognize or illuminate the potential of the whole child. Grades help guide families through an industrial education system, but have little to do with motivating students authentically and – in my opinion – do not give good insight into a student’s future. How many of us know successful people that struggled in school or the opposite: school was easy but real life is hard? Keep in mind there is no grade for creativity (in all things), kindness, or recess skills. Nonetheless, we know that reading on grade level by third grade shows a direct connection with student success through high school. However, a “low” grade or a pep talk or lecture will not change the ability level of the student (nor will it change an undesirable behavior.) A student that is struggling simply needs more and perhaps different instruction. That is all. It begins there. What they don’t need is to internalize negative feelings about themselves, learning, or school. Even with our best efforts to conceal these things from students, they become aware and often compare themselves with their peers. As they get older it becomes more pronounced. It is an unintended side effect of grades and the pressure teachers put on students to perform at mandated levels that are not always appropriate or even purposeful.
I work hard to give the best information about performance on report cards to help families navigate their child’s industrial school experience, but I see my students as a whole lot more than a — /, V, +
Working within this industrial model, teachers struggle with finding the right assessment tool. The district provides some but they don’t always align with the report card and the common core state standards. In a sense, the model wants to standardize everyone across the country (despite a various cultures in America), yet in reality I am not provided with all the tools to do this. Teachers are then making the decision about the assessment tool. This is fine with me because it reflects what we are doing in my class, but we wonder what other schools are doing. Like parents, we wonder: are we keeping up? All this to keep up with the industrial model which demands to be served and we teachers end up serving it out school culture and professional requirements and pressure. Always pressure.
Here is what I’m certain about. I know my students are curious and extreme in their engagement. I give them all an A+ for that. When we have a behavior problem (for me) in class, it is usually because engagement turns into running and skipping in the room. These kids like to learn, want to learn, and are learning how to learn in class – despite any grade given. I am proud of the environment in our room and I always follow “teachable moments,” which are never reflected on the report card and completely unpredictable, like real life.
Here’s how I think about the grades:
V means you are totally on track with district metrics and possibly ahead. While we do spend a lot of time class time testing (that is what I call it), the tests are not comprehensive and we know that students perform different at different times for all sorts of reasons. Therefore, I give V when I have some evidence and enough observational evidence to feel confident that a student is headed towards what we call mastery. (Personally, I think testing is a skill. I am horrible at it. You can pay people to teach you how to take a test. What does that say about testing in general? What does it say about those with the means to pay for the class to teach you how to take the test? It is a skill for the industrial model. Isn’t life the real test? Our tests should reflect the challenges of real life. Typically they do not. I’m not sure what a “real” life test looks like actually. I know that “writing tests” do not reflect the challenges of writing authentically. I suppose we can make a test for technical writing. Yikes!)
M or Meeting is also a more than sufficient score. I don’t like giving “exceeds” until farther in the year when I have enough observational or work sample evidence. The new state assessments are difficult, third grade at Richmond is exceptionally difficult, so I’m hesitant to give exceeds except where I’m not absolutely positive. I’d rather you get to third grade and find out you are ahead than show up and find out you are behind (in the metric). And we still have TWO more report cards. As a building we do want better vertical alignment. Until that happens, I am cautious about grades.
CM or Close to Meeting is also a good score. That typically means that there are a fill holes to fill in the student’s skill set, things I will want to target in instruction in third term.
N – Not Meeting means the student is not meeting the district metrics about performance. Parents typically know this about their child and are working with their child and the school.
NM – no mark means I simply do not have enough evidence and I don’t want to guess about what is going in the student’s mind.
Despite RCs, maybe go out for pizza to celebrate yours and your child’s continuous education.
Lots of love,