He's doing well, thanks.

Ah, parent-teacher night. That wonderful night that comes around every so often where you get to meet all the parents of all the kids you really don’t need to see. You know, the kid who’s getting straight As, has an 85+ average, always does their homework, works well and contributes to everything, and their parents always turn up to the interview asking “So, how’s he doing?”

Of course the kids who are nearly failing the course, the ones with 15 absent days and who never handed in that last assessment task… how come the parents of those kids never seem to turn up? If I was a cynic I’d think there might be some sort of correlation between the two.

I’m sitting here at parent-teacher night right now. Alone. Next appointment not for another 25 minutes. I mean, I’m not a Math or English teacher. Fortunately I’m getting a wifi signal, so I thought I’d drop a quick blog post on here…

But what jumped out at me the most during the report writing process this week was the utter futility of the report card comments. The comment bank we had to work from was, well, less than stellar. Finding comments that were actually useful was really difficult and mostly the report comments that went out were so generic as to be almost useless. I found it very frustrating.

At the end of the day the only thing the kids (and their parents) were interested in was the grade – that percentage number. And I can’t seem to get my head around the significance of a number that really is not measured against any clearly defined criteria in any meaningful and consistent way. To set tests and assessment tasks that provides a score where anything below 50% is a failing mark just seems fairly silly to me. I could write a test that everyone could pass or I could write a test that nearly no one could pass. How does this vague and arbitrary 50% equate to a “pass”? How does my test in my school compare to another teacher giving a “similar” test in another school in the province? Or how does it compare to a score from a totally different subject. And yet the numbers that get generated from these tests and assessments are treated as SO critical, often making or breaking the student’s progress through the school system. Intuitively, the good kids will end up passing, and the slackers will probably end up failing, (whatever that really means) so perhaps common sense eventually prevails. But these grade numbers are taken so seriously! They provide a platform for progress through the system and on to university, and yet to me they just seem so arbitrary.

I heard a story the other day about a kid – a “good kid” – who had n 85+% grade and realised that because of the way the scores were averaged, and because he only needed 50% to “pass”, he could still pass the course without even sitting the final exam. So he turned up, wrote his name on the paper, submitted it and walked out. Did he pass the course? Yes. Do I think he achieved his potential? No way, not even close. Was the pass/fail system at least partially responsible for condoning this attitude? Unfortunately, yes.

CC BY-SA 4.0 He's doing well, thanks. by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.