What good are report cards? Carl Bosch, a teacher, still doesn’t really know.
All hail the report card, that traditional measure of student competency, overlaid with hints at work ethic, intelligence, and maturity. But what does it really say?
Last Friday, the eight-grade corridor was buzzing at 2:50 as students were released from school, clutching their first marking-period report card. Having scanned them quickly an hour earlier, I stood in a prominent spot in the hallway. There were a number of students I hoped to corral and comment on their last 10 weeks of work.
At the beginning of the day we held “one-on-one” conferences with students to discuss their achievements. One adult sits with one student, for five minutes each, talking about grades, throughout the entire middle school. I was assigned to a homeroom and had a chat with about 15 young people over the course of the session, the vast majority having done very well. Their interesting responses were widespread. This boy was very happy; last year’s D’s had turned into this year’s C’s. Another was upset because they missed high honors by a single B. Some were relieved, the sigh audible. Some responses were typical: “She gave me a B minus!” Which, of course, I countered with the typical, “She didn’t ‘give’ you anything. It’s all yours.”
In the hallway, I stop students here and there with a call, “How did you do?” (As if I didn’t already know). They mostly respond enthusiastically, wanting to show me the proof on the slip of paper in their hand as if the letters attached to subjects were the concrete evidence of their lives. As if the letters told me about their personality, character, attitude, friendliness, or commitment. I’m not discounting report cards. They’re a measure of achievement over a certain body of knowledge. But in some cases, I’ve wished that this or that student could simply get a narrative report describing what they’ve accomplished and what they need to work on. Report cards take on an inflated importance in many directions. Some students are far too intense over straight A’s. Others are learning, despite their consistent poor grades.
Occasionally, I pull over a student in the hall knowing they’ve failed a subject or two. They try to make an excuse or simply reply, “Not so good.” I’m aware that most of the academic failures have multiple causes, included among them that the student shows little motivation. It’s a hard road. If I knew the key to motivation, the one Holy Educational Grail, which worked for every student, I’d be a much richer man with my infomercials and talk show. But it doesn’t work like that.
Countdown: 10,040 days down, 135 days left
—Photo Mark Gstohl/Flickr