Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.

Report cards.

If you’re anything like me, you would rather not know your grade than face the rest of your class gloating and self-inflating themselves over that little plus or minus sign beside an otherwise meaningless alphabet letter.

This past week was report card week for the Higher Achievement scholars at Boushall Middle school and the air was anything but calm.

As I walked into the school that evening I noticed more people than usual. There was a long table set up outside of the cafeteria with a bunch of teachers set up behind it. I was confused by this set up, as the teachers are usually long gone by the time that Higher Achievement is in session.

My first instinct was that there were parent teacher conferences tonight, however when I asked one of my colleagues, I was told that they were there to hand out report cards to parents. Apparently parents had to come to the school and sign out the report card because they wouldn’t hand them out to the students.

I was left a bit uneasy by this measure but I just shrugged my shoulders and went to help out in 8th grade study hall. As soon as I walked in I asked some of my students what their grades looked like. Some were giddy about having brought their grades up from last term while others were avoiding eye contact and shifting in their seats.

I found myself drawn to the students that were a little bit more uncomfortable with the topic of report cards and grades. I offered my support for them no matter what grades they had. Some of my students didn’t yet have their report cards because their parents couldn’t make it to school. “No big deal”, I thought, “they will just mail it if the parent can’t come”.   However, there seemed to be something else going on. The scholars that didn’t have their report cards seemed to have distinct fear in their eyes. When I asked them what the big deal was, they told me that they would be suspended from school if their parents didn’t come pick up the report card on one of the two days given.

I was confused as to why this needed to happen. I was angry that this was what the school decided was the best way to get parents involved. I was hit by a wall of empathy for the students who would be suspended simply because their parents had to work during the pick-up hours.

I could not imagine the added stress that this new measure would out on students, especially students who view report cards and grades like I do. I tried to put myself in the mindset of school administrators who implemented this policy, but I could not justify it in my head. These students do not need more stress in their lives. They need support.

This new policy removes another layer of control from the student. They have no say in whether or not they get suspended or if their parent can see their report card. But then again, maybe this removal of power was the intention.

If the name of the game is parental involvement, coercion measures are not the best way to achieve an engaged cohort of parents. Parents that feel threatened by the school system are more likely to sympathize with their child and to be soured to the public system as a whole.

We seem to be caught in a system that measures learning and intelligence on a scale of letter grades and points on a test. This system seeks parental buy-in, but doesn’t think of the possible road blocks that keep parents from being as involved as they would like; desires student achievement but doesn’t promote or support student growth.

Nothing is going to change without a shift in the sentiments that surround these types of valuations and report card “shaming” through the threat of suspension seems to me to be a step backward rather than forward.

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3 thoughts on “Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.

  1. Thanks for this post. It’s great analysis of the messages sent to kids and parents. BTW, report cards for our kids came home too — In their backpacks. Then we have to sign the envelop they come home in. I don’t know what would happen if we didn’t.

    I’ve thought about grades too. I give them because it is my job, but when we sat down with our own kids, I ended having the “you are more than a letter” discussion with them even when a grade was one they were please with (e.g., that grade is one you should be proud of because you worked so hard, or that one is good but c’mon, you earned it while sleeping through class, etc.). Your discussion of the things that matter besides achievement (empathy, integrity, grit) reminds me of that episode over our break.

  2. I like this post Catherine! It made me ask a lot of questions. I wonder why Boushall Middle needed parents to pick up the report card – was it for teachers to engage with parents because the teachers wouldn’t have been able to otherwise? Did you see this happening when some of the parents came?

    I don’t agree with the measure, but perhaps it was implemented because the teachers strongly felt that parents were not coming out to parent teacher conferences, etc and thought this was the last incentive they could use out of genuine concern. In contrast, it may have also been as a way to warn parents. I think that’s why I was asking about what happened when parents actually came – did they just grab the report card and go? Did you see parents and teachers have tense interactions?

    I definitely agree that this condition creates greater distrust among teachers and parents that Payne mentioned, and maybe even resentment and frustration by the students to their parents, which is an unfortunate side effect…

    • I really think that this new measure was in response to students just not showing their report card to their parents. I mean when I was their age, I didn’t show my mom mine either. I think that the school believes that if parents knew that their child was struggling in math, let’s say, then they would be more inclined to do something about it, to help their student. It seems to me that this new measure was brought about as a stressful response to the pressure that the school administration and teaching staff must be feeling with regard to student test scores and the threat of a school closure if the standards are not met within 3 years.

      Boushall Middle is one of the few VA schools that has reached the point of conditional accreditation. This means that the school was previously accredited with warning and that it did not make adequate yearly progress standards for its 4th consecutive year and applied for conditional accreditation to save itself from being shut down. All this is to say that if they do not improve their students’ assessment scores soon the school will be gone for good. I can only imagine what sort of panic and stress this is putting on staff and administrators of school. Although I still do not agree with the measures that have been taken, I do understand, in some regard, why the administration made this report card decision.

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