My daughter’s report card came home last week. The grading system is as follows:

  • E: Exceeds expectations
  • A: Achieving expectations
  • P: Progressing towards expectations
  • N: Needs support

There are also a couple of places for comments, which is what I’m usually most interested in.

Before I continue, there’s a very good chance my opinion is clouded by a certain “back in my day” attitude. That said, I have given this some thought, enough to start a discussion at least.

The confusion I have with this grading system is the word “expectations”. It sounds kind of benign but what’s missing is context. Is it the expectations at this current moment in time or is it year-end expectations? If it’s year-end expectations, then does she need help to bring her up to speed? Or do they continue to get taught the concept throughout the year? If they don’t, what’s the plan to bring her up to expectations?

All this boils down to a single question for me: Is there anything actionable I, as a parent, need to do?

This is something I posed to the teacher and she was very helpful. She explained the rationale behind the grades and clarified my questions. In the end, I left feeling like I was doing my job, which was basically to support hers.

(Side note: I’ve come to expect this level of professionalism of the teachers at my daughter’s school. Despite the somewhat new-age grading system, she has had some fantastic teachers through the years. The first month of each year is always a little anxious for me because I keep thinking her streak can’t continue. But I guess if Pixar can bat a thousand, so can a school.)

But still this system nags at me. If my kid is progressing toward expectations in a concept and yet, I don’t need to do anything different, then what meaning does the grade provide?

Worse yet: what if she’s still progressing toward expectations at the end of the year? What are my options at that point? I get the impression that this grading system wouldn’t identify the problem earlier in the year.

There’s another angle to this. If your child is a good student and is grasping the concepts and is basically on the right track, there’s a psychological hit you take seeing P’s on the report card. It gives the message that your child is not quite at the level he or she is supposed to be at. The counter-argument, of course, is that this is mid-term. There’s no reason to expect them to be at year-level expectations yet. But again, if they’re on track, what good does it do to tell me “she’s not there yet but we have high hopes”?

This psychological aspect also affects parents. For me personally, I have a good idea what kind of student my daughter is. I help her with her homework and know what she’s good at and what she struggles with. So all I really needed was to have a chat with her teacher to see if there were any problem areas and to see if I needed to do anything differently.

But I can imagine other parents putting undue emphasis on the “lower” P grade, and perhaps pressuring their children to work harder, even if they are already good students.

I suspect the grading process is a stressful one for teachers. Particularly for students whose parents are more apt to blame the teachers for their child’s poor grades. Maybe this system was in response to that. Or maybe the old, A, B, C, D, F system had some inherent problems on its own.

But I’m picturing a report card that has a bunch of As and Bs with one or two Cs. That, to me, is something I can do something about. It sends a clear message of where your child needs support. “At this exact point in time, your daughter is pretty good in all these subjects, but she could step up her efforts in comprehension.”

To re-iterate, this is mostly moot for me because I have a decent grasp on my daughter’s education and on how she’s achieving my own expectations. I just wonder if this grading system adds an unnecessary level of stress when a simple twenty minute conversation with the teacher would tell me what I need to know more than this report card.

Kyle the Graded