This is the first year that Dash has brought home letter grades on tests and reports instead of smiley faces and stars and mostly meaningless abbreviations like IP for in progress and PR for proficient. (The checkmarks and smiley faces and stars actually followed a progression that the kids were well aware of, so they may as well have been A’s and B’s and C’s, really. But it seemed friendlier and less pressured.)
Dash never really asked what was in his report, and I never particularly told him. I said it was fine, and that was that. It was usually a mixture of IPs and PRs and an OG for reading. (That means “on grade” level.)
Dash’s first report this autumn had a lovely line of straight A’s. I was happy, and feel this slight improvement can probably be credited to his vision therapy. In general, though, he’s a smart enough kid who’s well-behaved in class, listens to the teacher most of the time, and is liked by the staff. I’m pretty sure that these are the traits that lead to A’s from your teacher when you’re in elementary school just as much as your test results and your homework does. (Especially in fuzzy subjects like PE, for instance. Then it’s all down to how much the teacher likes you.)
I told him he had straight A’s, and he was pleased, because he knows that’s a thing that people aspire to.
I would like to leave it there, but in American schools there’s this little thing called Honor Roll.
Twice a year (three times? I don’t know yet) in our school, all the children who have all A’s and B’s or higher on their reports are deemed to be honorworthy, and they have an assembly to which their parents can come to watch them be presented with a certificate saying that they’re on the Honor Roll. There are bumper stickers, even, saying that this car is driven by the proud parent of an Honor Roll student at your particular school. It’s all made a bit of a big deal of.
For tedious reasons, Dash didn’t actually get a second report this term, and therefore was not eligible for Honor Roll this time, but his teacher assured me that he would have been on it, and apologized for the oversight. (Okay, tedious explanation: what happened was that we had to un-enroll him from school when we went to Ireland, so that his absences wouldn’t count against the school and bring down their average, and so his records were all inaccessible when the reports were generated. We’ve done this before and it’s a simple matter to re-enroll him when we get back and he slots straight back in as if he’d never left. It’s fine.)
Not only did I not care about the second report; I was actually a little relieved that he wouldn’t be in the Honor Roll thing. And that seemed weird, so I put some thought into figuring out why I felt that way.
As a child who enjoyed reading and tended to “lick up to” the teacher, (pretty much the same as brown-nosing), I usually got good marks at school. But somewhere along the way I took in the fact that it was bad manners to ask what someone else got in a test, because that was tantamount to bragging about my own grade. Test marks were like salaries – you don’t ask, but if someone else offers information you can reciprocate with yours.
So having a ceremony where you proclaim to the whole school that we’re the smart kids doesn’t seem fair.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’re showing the value of hard work and application. Maybe that’s the only way you get A’s and B’s; but somehow, when you’re seven years old, I don’t think that’s really it. Maybe they’re proclaiming that they’re the kids with the involved parents, the families where a parent is around to help with homework, where books are read as a matter of course, and, often, where English is a first language. I’m pretty sure all those factors also contribute to high grades, and those have very little to do with how hard the kids work at their studies.
Maybe I’m wrong, and all the other kids watch the Honor Roll-ees troop off for their assembly with nothing but goodwill and ambition in their hearts, happy for their friends and newly committed to learning all their spelling words this week so that maybe next time they’ll be one of the hallowed few. Maybe, in fact, half of the kids at school are on Honor Roll, and the others couldn’t care less about it. Maybe some kids would actively hate to be on it. Maybe it would destroy their street cred, and is just one more reason not to bother doing their homework.
I’m not sure I see the value of grades for elementary school students at all, for one thing. In general, bragging about grades (albeit in a fully school-endorsed way) sits badly with me. If Dash ends up on Honor Roll next time, I’m sure I’ll go along to the ceremony and be delighted for him, but I’m not going to be the sort of parent who pays for grades, or rewards an excellent report card with an extravagant present. Not at this stage. Maybe never.
When I googled to find that news story I linked to above, it turned out that I’m not the only person who maybe thinks Honor Roll – or even grades in general – aren’t the greatest idea ever. But apparently lots of other people think that the people who complain about Honor Roll are like the ones who don’t want winners and losers in kids’ soccer games because they want to protect their little darlings from ever feeling “less than.” My point is exactly the opposite: I don’t want a group of kids to feel that they’re “more than,” when – in elementary school at least – I think that hard graft and dogged perseverance are not major contributors to good grades. There are way too many other factors at play in the early years.
Tell me what you think. Do you think Honor Roll helps kids do their best, or would you rather it didn’t exist?