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Making The Grade?

Sally has homework about 3 times a week.  She tends to struggle with it.  She also does poorly on her assessments and has to make test corrections.  At the end of the grading period, Sally brings home her report card and has a shining B average.  Her parents are so proud of her for bringing up her grade.  But Sally stands in amazement because she doesn’t understand how her grade improved.  She still does not understand the concepts they are learning in class.  So what’s wrong with this situation?

This happens more frequently than most parents realize.  A teacher is managing a classroom room of 30+ students, each with his/her own views, attitudes and/or learning disabilities.  The teacher is trying to accommodate all students, to ensure that each one is learning the material.  Some students may struggle, while others may make no attempt at all to grasp the information.  The teacher may also offer tutoring to the students for additional assistance.  Some students will attend, others could care less.

But at the end of the grading period, none of that could even be of any significance.  Some schools and school districts have what they call a failure rate.  And teachers are not allowed to surpass that rate.  For example, the failure rate could be 10%.  This means that the teacher cannot fail more than 10% of his or her students within a grading period.  Sound fair?  Well, it really isn’t, and can be detrimental to a student’s learning. 

My last year of teaching, I must say, that the majority, and I do mean majority, of my students did not complete homework.  This in turn, led to poor homework and assessment grades.  And because the majority would be failing, it was very easy for me to surpass that 10% failure rate.  I had two classes of 35+ students.  With just one of those classes alone, I could surpass the failure rate.  So what was I to do?

I was faced with a situation that several teachers are faced with:  give the student the grade he or she deserves, or give them a passing grade to appease administration.  I gave my students every chance possible to correct homework and test grades, and made myself available for afternoon tutoring.  So in actuality, they should have received the grade they deserved.  But I found myself ‘doctoring’ grades so that the administration didn’t send me to the guillotine. 

So, students were receiving passing grades for lack of work ethic and lack of understanding.  And how was this helping them?  Administration felt that a failing grade would discourage a student.  Yet, I felt that it should have been motivation for them to work harder.  At least that’s the way it was when I was in school.

Now the result we have is students being passed from one grade to the next, not having conceptualized the content from the previous grade.  This is what is hurting their self-esteem.  Each year they enter a new class, lacking prior knowledge and feeling less confident that they ‘can do it’.  What can we do as parents to ensure that our children are getting everything that they need from their learning?

  1. Whenever possible, complete homework with your child.  Monitor to see what things he or she is struggling with.
  2. Check with your child’s teacher to report back your findings, and to see if tutoring is available.
  3. Make sure that your child’s grades reflect their understanding of the content.  If not, talk to the teacher to question the discrepancy.
  4. Hire a private tutor if necessary.  I find that the students that I privately tutor tend to learn more in the private sessions than they do in their classroom at times.

 In no way am I excusing the teachers from doing their job of teaching.  Neither am I excusing the parents of doing theirs. But to ensure the success of the children, we need teachers and parents working together. We must make sure that students are making the connection, and not just making the grade.

**Not all schools, school districts and teachers favor passing grades as opposed to earned grades.  But it is important for parents to be aware of the pressure placed upon the teachers.