Chris Currie: Making the grade

The only A on Katie's report card was part of a picture on the back. Actually, that was the only place I found B, too.

When I opened my first-grader's first trimester report card confusion was hard-hitting and evident.

"What's wrong? How did she do?," the baby-sitter asked.

I stammered, "Um. I'm not exactly sure."

Before me was a mess of acronyms that included PP, PP2 and PRO. They were interlaced with a few S+'s, S's and H's.

Available letters that Katie didn't receive were X's and N's.

I wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing.

I skipped to the comments section, hoping that would shed some light. There was on line: "You are doing great in music class!"

A clue!

OK, that means S's and H's are good.

What the hell does PP1 mean?

I located the key. PP, I learned, stands for partially proficient. PP1 means just beginning (I'm still not sure if that means the entire class or just my child). PP3 means you're a hair's breadth from turning PRO.

It seems kind of harsh to brand a child a professional student in first-grade, but who am I to judge the system?

Turns out, PRO actually means proficient.

Sounds perfect to me.

It's not. If you are proficient at a skill, that puts you in the middle of the pack. Still to achieve are "excellent" and "advanced" ratings.

OK. I think I've got the system figured out, so I move on to see how my child rates using this new formula.

First I looked for the areas that need improvement. My eye came across a PP2 rating. Putting my new report-card translating skills to use, I knew that was an area Katie (the whole class?) was working on.

OK. What is it that we have to practice more of at home?

"Identifying consonant blends and digraphs."

Huh?

By straining my brain, I figured that consonant blends includes those letters that don't sound like that should when they're mixed with other letters. "Th," "sh," and "ch" are examples.

OK. Got that.

I had to turn to my friend Webster to figure out what the heck a digraph was. He tells me a digraph is a pair of letters representing a single speech sound like the "ph" in "phone or the "ea" in "seat."

Crap. Isn't that the same thing? And what do they mean by "identify"? Does Katie have to look at the word "there" and use the "th" sound or is she supposed to mention that the "th" in "there" represents a consonant blend?

I began to get a picture of Katie's overall understanding, although some skill requirements still stymied me, like "knows sound-symbol relationships."

I was getting the sinking feeling that Katie's lack of proficiency in some areas was directly due to my lack of understanding in all of them.

What kind of mother am I that can't read a first grader's report card and help bolster her weak areas?

I started looking for words I could understand. Handwriting.

Boom! There's something that makes sense. It's also something Katie's fairly proficient at, so there went my easy out.

I hit on another familiar word, "algebra."

Algebra?

There are really going to be problems if my 6-year-old is studying algebra, and her mother can't read a report card.

Then another oddity hit me. Katie's number sense needs work, but she's got high marks in algebra and computation. How does THAT work?

Thank God for parent/teacher conferences where I learned the first-grade definition of algebra and what kinds of activities would bolster Katie's grade in probability and statistics.

I had to see the activity associated with each skill set to understand what the heck they were trying to measure.

Just as I'm thinking my current ranking as a parent is PP1, I asked a friend if she got her first-grade son's report card.

The minute her eyes widened and she took a deep breath to let lose her own tirade, I knew I wasn't alone.

I might not be making the grade as a PP parent, but I'm in the 50th percentile.

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