What’s in a grade?

What’s really in a grade? That is a question parents often ask as they stare at their child’s report card during the end of a grading period. While we all have a basic understanding of what it means to be an “A”, “B” or “C” student, today’s educators are finding new ways to help parents look beyond the letter grade and get a better idea of how their student is really doing academically.

For some schools, ‘narratives’ have been added to the grading process, giving parents much-needed detail on their student’s classroom experience. “Our narratives include an overall look at the classroom itself-concepts being taught, units being covered, etc.-and then it goes into the individual child,” says Melinda Orzoff, Lower School Division Head at Roycemore School in Evanston. “Teachers detail a student’s progression, successes and challenges, which really gives parents a full picture of the child and why they received a particular grade.”

In addition to giving parents details about the child’s grading period experience, Roycemore educators also include ideas for how the child can improve his or her grade moving forward. “We really believe we are in partnership with our parents and want to give parents a more complete picture of their child as a student,” adds Orzoff. “You just don’t get that with the basic ‘letter grade’.” These narratives not only come from the child’s classroom teacher, but from each and every one of his or her ‘specials’ such as PE and Music. “It is definitely a task that takes a long time to complete,” says Orzoff. “But our teachers will agree that creating these narratives is one of the most important parts of their job.”

Phillip Jackson of Chicago Grammar School agrees. “Long narratives try to synthesize the information for parents,” says Phillip Jackson, founder of Chicago Grammar School. “It tells you the culmination of what information they have been given throughout the quarter.” Chicago Grammar School students receive percentages instead of grades, which, Jackson feels, is a more realistic look at how the student is doing. “The focus of our program is learning for mastery,” says Jackson. “The percentage a parent sees represents how well the student has mastered the knowledge for that particular subject.”

Lombard’s Delphi Academy of Chicago has also moved away from the traditional grading system and instead shows if the student is meeting and/or exceeding educational goals or if they still need help accomplishing set objectives. Believing that all students should have a full understanding and an ability to use the information before progressing on to the next level of learning, achieving anything less than 100% requires an immediate teacher intervention. “If a student isn’t understanding the concept enough to achieve a 100%, we need to know why,” says Debbie Voss, Dean of Students at Delphi Academy of Chicago. “This helps us avoid having students move forward with their learning using the wrong thought-process-we correct what is wrong immediately so they can continue to succeed.”

Regardless of the letter grade, percentage or narrative a parent receives at the end of a grading period, one thing is certain: there should absolutely be no surprises.

“Our teachers have such great communication with our parents that all the ‘telling’ has already happened. They already know how their student is doing in the classroom and the report card is just a way for us to put closure on the quarter,” says Jackson. “Report cards should not tell you something you don’t already know.”

To make sure you are not ‘shocked’ by the end of the grading period mark, here are some tips for how you can stay in the loop:

Involve the Student: Give your student some ownership over his or her academic success. “Our students can pick their own faculty advisor each year,” says Orzoff. “This makes them feel they have a real advocate inside and outside of the classroom.” At home, ask your student what their goals are at the beginning of each grading period and periodically sit down with them to discuss their progress throughout the course of the year.

Use Technology: For schools like Chicago Grammar, parents can view their child’s progress electronically. Check your child’s grade on a regular basis and communicate any of your concerns with your child and his or her teacher.

Talk to the Teacher: “Parents pick up from the classroom at our school, so there is daily opportunity to talk to their child’s teacher,” says Voss. Even if you don’t see your child’s teacher every day, you should still reach out on a regular basis. Send a note to school with your child or just shoot a quick email to see how your child is doing. And, always ask what you can be doing at home to help them succeed.

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