Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington D.C. public school system, recently spoke in the Harrisburg area. I didn’t go see her but part of her presentation was transcribed in the Sunday Harrisburg Patriot-News. One statement that she made really stood out to me. In her defense of using student achievement as part of teacher evaluations, Rhee stated, “We evaluate kids every day. We give them grades on tests and assignments. If the kids came to us and said ‘Report cards to us seem very suspicious and very punitive to all children,’ we would look at them and say Honey, come on.'”
I haven’t decided whether I agree with her or disagree with her but one thing it led me to revisit was my disdain for report cards. How much does anyone really glean from a report card? Does a 90% really mean that you know 90% of what was taught that quarter? Or better yet does a final grade of 50% mean that you only mastered 50% of the grade level standards? I can assure you that I could take 5 students who received a 90% as a final grade, give them an end of the year assessment and they would all perform differently.
So what does a report card with numbers on it really tell us? A large part of the difference in grades is work ethic. If you work hard and do your homework your grade will undoubtedly be higher than a student with the same ability but a poor work ethic. Which leads to the next barrier for achieving high grades, socioeconomics. If you have a parent at home that is willing or able to help you on a daily basis with your schoolwork you will assuredly attain higher grades than the student who goes home to an empty house, makes his or her own dinner, and watches TV until his or her parent or parents get home from work.
Fortunately I have a perfect example in my own home. I have two daughters. One does very well in school based on report card grades; Honor Roll, National Honor Society, etc. The other one – not so much! Here’s the difference: The first daughter is an admitted ass kisser and learned early in her educational career that in order to get good grades she needed to do her homework; play the game. The other one couldn’t care less about the game. She doesn’t understand the game. Her mind is not wired for game playing. At 13 years old she knew it was all bullshit; arbitrary numbers on a piece of paper.
The only real answer, in my opinion, is to eliminate traditional grading. We all know that it means nothing. In no way does a 75% on a report card tell me what my children know and what they don’t know. That’s what I want to know. I want to know where they need assistance if they are struggling. I admit that average Joe Dad and average Jane Mom want to see grades. It is concrete and simple for everyone to understand. “Here’s your 10 dollars for each A that I promised you.” (And that’s a whole nother blog post!) I know that colleges need to see grades to make their arbitrary decisions on acceptance. But wouldn’t it be better if you had a piece of paper that told you what your children know and what they don’t know.
I think this is a great quote from Michelle Rhee; “My job is to make sure that all kids in the city are getting a great education. I am agnostic to the delivery method, as long as they are learning what they need.”
Now the question is: How are you ever really going to know?