This Educrat’s opinion that it would be my daughter more harmed confirmed what many parents had already begun to observe – it was especially the higher achievers who were losing motivation and the willingness to work hard to do their best. My daughter, Faith, was a “99er”, meaning she scored in the 99th percentile on her SAT’s (this was before the FCAT), and received all A’s all the time in everything. She didn’t receive much homework, but she had more assigned to her than her brother who was two years older. Each of her teachers assured me at the end of every year that they were going to “take very good care” of her, which I took to mean that she would be placed with the best teacher available at the next grade level. Faith was in 3rd grade when the new report card was adopted and received all E’s. The 1st marking period of 4th grade, she brought home all S’s. She wondered what she had done wrong and insisted that she had worked very hard to do her best – which her dad and I already knew. I set up an appointment with her teacher – with Faith coming as well.
I really liked my daughter’s 4th grade teacher. He told us that the only reason she received all S’s was because of a new rule stating that E’s could not be given in the first marking period. There was some vague explanation that it would be “impossible” for a student to do so well after a whole summer off from school. Talk about low expectations! I asked did Faith “extend and apply all knowledge new and old”? He answered “Always.” I then turned to Faith and made sure she understood that the S’s were because of a new rule and that her teacher knew she deserved E’s on all her work. Was that OK? Was it enough for her to know that? She said yes. It was this understanding that helped her overcome the damage of the new system, but I’m not sure how much longer her strength of will would have held up – remember, she was 8 years old.
I’m very aware that there are excellent schools, especially at the college level, that have abandoned the ABC grading system for a system more reliant on portfolios of students’ work and projects and written commentary by their professors. These assessments seem to work best for students who have tested into the schools and who have proven that they have all the foundational knowledge necessary to do well with a very rigorous curriculum. For the most part, however, when schools do away with marking and grading using the traditional 92%-100 = A, etc., it’s because they are withholding skills and knowledge and are trying to hide the fact that more and more of their students cannot read, have no idea where to place commas, and can’t add even small numbers without using their fingers. With the second-year change, E no longer meant “Extends and applies all knowledge…”, and with S meaning anything from A to C (and even plunging from A to C!), this was essentially a non-grade system in disguise. This meaningless report card, in conjunction with OBE/Blueprint 2000’s disdain for direct, explicit instruction, caused a great deal of harm, indeed.