Today was report card day. A day for some that’s filled with joy, for other dread and yet others shame. The bizarre thing is that one little thing determines that for kids, a percentage (I know some of you have moved to outcome-based, any high school examples out there email me a template). Even more bizarre is that percentage is not the indicator of the feelings alone. A students perception of that percentage is really the issue. 2 students in a hallway comparing marks, both score a 75, one is overjoyed the other defeated and I am just frustrated. Frustrated because we operate within a system that takes a person and all their work and reduces it to a percentage point. We emphasize the product and not the process. I stood in the halls after school today just observing, there were proud kids proclaiming their brilliance and showing everyone their hard earned 90’s, but what about the hard-earned 60’s, what about the student that grew throughout the term? As I was typing report card comments I noticed a character counter ticking down in the comments section. Like celebrating my students should be reduced to a tweet. So many times this year I have watched as students sighed when they saw a score even as the feedback sat waiting to be applied, even when they were assured that they could revise and I would revisit. The grade becomes an insurmountable mountain to some, why do we keep doing it?
What if a student came to me and said they had a 97% in LA last year and wanted to know how they could do that in my LA class and I said they probably won’t. They ask why and I said what does a 97% look like? They can’t tell me. What about if instead I just talked about the awesome things they did? The creative use of language or the deep personal response to reading? What about if instead of saying you get 97% of the things right and 3% (because that is all they see) wrong I tell them that some of their sentences seemed to be disorganized, that their punctuation causes a breakdown in understanding. What if…
I can give my students feedback on their writing and I do, during and after but what it seems like to me is, in the end, all that matters is that grade. Seriously do you know what a 97% in LA looks like? What their understanding of Theme is or Character attributes? What about a 68%? Is that student 29% less capable? Doesn’t that just seem bizarre?
Is our goal to turn people into percents? Mine is not. Mine is to build my students up through conversations and feedback. Fewer numbers and more words, more to work with, more to build from. I can work with words and teach my students to do the same.
Just to put an exclamation mark on this here is a scenario I saw today.
A student that as they looked over their report card got to the bottom and the comment section and the printer had malfunctioned, not all the comments were there. The student went looking for someone to reprint her comments because, while the number was not high the comments were positive, they focused on the growth and as the student said, “I just got to the good part, I need to know how it finished”
“I need to know how it finished”