Evaluating Our Children

Carl Bosch finds himself caught between his students and their academic futures.

Here are some directions for you.

“Please comment on the candidate’s degree of cooperation.”

Here are your choices.

“Extremely Cooperative, Very Cooperative, Moderately, Somewhat, Little Cooperation, Poor Attitude.”

Hm … let me think about that for a minute.

Over the past two months I’ve filled out recommendation forms for eighth graders who are applying to high schools other than our regular public high school in town. We include transcripts and report cards, standardized tests and record of attendance. My students have applied to a wide array of options here in Connecticut and throughout New England. All-boys schools, all-girls, non-denominational private schools, religious schools, and even a few boarding schools.  Then there’s Aquaculture, Agriscience, Global Studies, and the Regional Center for the Arts. Kids have more choices for high school than a Chinese menu.  So far I’ve filled out over 70 recommendations for 52 different students, with more to come.

What I find truly fascinating are the questions asked of me on these recommendations. Many of them have a grid for check-offs. The topics at the top are truly invigorating. The lowest ranking is “Below Average,” but the absolute highest is not “Excellent—Top 10% this year,” but the god-like, lofty “One of the Top Few I Have Ever Encountered.” Listen, I’ve been doing this for 38 years and not to be a curmudgeon, but I’m not sure I’ve ever checked that box off. “Encountered?”  Sounds like E.T. was one of my students. Upon graduation, I could imagine myself saying, “It’s been a pleasure encountering you, David, I wish you well.”

One of my personal favorites for evaluation on these grids is the comment: “No Basis for Judgment.” There are just so many characteristics of students that I don’t feel qualified enough to render any opinion. Let’s see … “Intellectual Curiosity”—No Basis for Judgment. “Willingness to Take Intellectual Risks”—No Basis for Judgment. “Maturity (relative to age)”—these kids are 13! For most of them there is very little maturity, especially relative to age!

Then there are little narrative spaces, less than an inch high, that the high school will ask an interesting question in, and I’m supposed to write a sentence or two. How do you try to write two sentences that can capture “Please comment on this student’s character, citizenship, and contribution to your community.” Really? Are you serious? I could write a paragraph, or an essay, or an entire book on some of these youngsters. Because some are really that great. They’re just developing as people, and they amaze me. Their resilience, work ethic, drive, politeness, and interest are blossoming every day. And sometimes I try to write exactly that.  Imagine what they’ll be like when they’re 20 or 30, or maybe even 50?

And then there are a few students who make it very difficult to find words to describe them because they just haven’t shown much. Their academic scores are OK but not outstanding. They might do all the right things in their own silent way. The hardest are the students who I don’t feel too strongly about. They’re not the nicest people. They’re not kind. They’re not friendly. They don’t make the school a better place with their presence, but rather use it as their own little melting pot of drama and self-promotion. What can I say about them? How truthful can I be? It’s a struggle and a personal challenge, and occasionally I’ll write on a recommendation: “Please call me to discuss this student further.” No one ever calls.

Here’s one last question:

“What are the first three words that come to mind to describe this student?”

What would you say about your own child?

10,051 days down, 104 left

—Photo dave_mcmt/Flickr

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About Carl Bosch

Carl Bosch has appeared in publications as varied as the New York Times and Cricket magazine. His books for children have sold over 60,000 copies. An educator for 38 years (soon coming to an end) he's now working on storytelling through MouseMuse Productions and performing marriage ceremonies as a Justice of the Peace.

Comments

  1. The Bad Man says:

    I don’t know what it’s like everywhere, but my kids get pretty generic stuff with only a few hints of areas for improvement. There isn’t really a grading system anymore because it’s unfair to compare them to other children in the class.

  2. I really enjoyed this piece and it demonstrates how ridiculous our measurement for success in academia can really be. After all, what do these evaluations really have to do with the person this child is currently and who they will become? No one can know, but it would greatly benefit our education system if we created a way of evaluating students that looked more at the whole person. Fewer boxes and check marks, less dehumanization of students. We can’t measure inspiration. We can’t measure imagination and these are the qualities that propel the individual and our culture forward.

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