Janet Sheridan: Making the Grade

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Janet Sheridan

Last week as I watched spruced-up children scamper by my house, wearing new backpacks and excitement, I wondered what they were thinking about as they began another school year.

My teaching experience tells me they weren’t focused on increasing their knowledge and earning straight A’s. Instead, they were probably thinking about friends, recess and teachers—in that order.

It wasn’t until I sat at the teacher’s desk that student learning and a fair system of grading dominated my thoughts as a school year began. I worked hard to establish procedures for collecting scores and assigning grades that would fairly represent the progress of each student, refining and improving my procedures year in and year out.

Still as an educator, I was often surprised by the reactions of parents and students when reports cards were issued.

I’ll never forget a kindergarten student who waved his card in the air as he rushed to show me how his teacher had marked each of his skills on a scale of 1 to 10.

“Look, Mrs. Bohart, my teacher thinks I’m 8 on everything but this one right here,” he said, pointing to his score for recognizing the letters of the alphabet, “Here she thinks I’m 7. And really, I’m only 5.”

When I taught ninth-grade English, Willy’s parents attended a conference at my request after their happy-go-lucky son received a D in my class.

When I asked for their ideas on how we could work together to help him increase his achievement, the smiling couple hastened to reassure me, “Oh heavens, Mrs. Bohart, don’t worry about Willy. You should see his other grades. Our boy’s doing great with you.”

That same year, an intense young lady made an appointment to stay after school and go over her grade with me. As she studied her recorded scores and checked my arithmetic with a calculator, she told me she planned to be the class valedictorian in three years and hoped to find an error that would raise her A- to an A.

Good grief. At her age, I was worried about increasing my meager collection of Jantzen sweaters, securing a date for ninth-grade graduation and keeping my uppity sister in her place.

I had no idea of my class standing, didn’t know what a grade-point average was and didn’t receive a grade that dismayed me until my first quarter of college in a physical-education class: badminton.

I managed to display a modicum of skill in the class because I’d played badminton for years with my siblings: fierce matches that ended when our mentally challenged dog ate the birdie or someone used a racquet in an unsportsmanlike manner.

As finals week approached, my forever friend and current roommate, Charlie, suggested we buy the required text the instructor had told us we should study over the course of the class.

“That’d be a waste of money,” I replied airily, “We went to every class, participated all the time and played better than most. And who would give a written test in PE?”

At 9:30 on the third morning of finals, a classmate asked if we’d studied for our badminton test—a test, scheduled for 10, which covered the sport’s invention, evolution and legendary players.

We each received an F on the test and a D+ in the class.

Charlie eventually spoke to me again.

My grandchildren exist in an altered universe in terms of grades: Each week their scores on tests and assignments are posted online for parental perusal. Incomplete assignments and inappropriate behaviors are also noted.

As early as fourth grade, the tykes can recite their percentage score and grade in each subject at any time — and their parents never have to ask how they’re doing in school.

Instead, dinner discussions begin, “I see you had two missing assignments in science last week. What’s with that?”

I’m glad I’m no longer in school.

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