Back to First Grade: Learning the meaning of the ‘S’ 

How self-esteem based learning now buries parents in metrics and edu-jargon

I had to laugh this week when my husband expressed his dismay at being completely confounded by my son’s first grade report card. As a teacher with a master’s degree, an education policy wonk, and daughter of a retired elementary school teacher, I found it to be equally mystifying.

Bear with me here...

On one page, I can tell you the results of his STAR Reading test broken down into his SS, GE, PR, PR Range, IRL, Est. ORF and his ZPD.  It is a good thing too because I was really concerned about his ZPD all year. This page also provides helpful information like, “Use the Accelerated Reader Diagnostic Report and Student Record Report for more detailed information about the student’s reading practice.” I can’t find that report, and if I could I am not really quite sure how I would use it.

On another page I see his Lexile Measure and discover that a “Lexile Framework,” for Reading is “an educational tool that links text and readers using a common metric known as the Lexile.” My husband, an English major, has no idea what a lexile might be or how to use this helpful tool.  

I also can see how my son scored on his vocabulary, comprehension, grammar, phonological awareness, phonics, sentence construction, research, number and operations, measurement, geometry, data analysis and probability. This is more encouraging news because my geometry and probability are terribly rusty, and I feel so reassured that my first grader can help me with mine.  

Then there is the page with the ‘regular’ marks: Language Arts, Oral and Written Communication, Math, Social Studies, Art, Social and Emotional Development. Here my son received either an “S”, “IP”, or “U” which I have learned from the key mean: S = Satisfactory Progress (On Grade Level); IP = In Progress (On Grade Level with Assistance); U = Unsatisfactory Progress (Below Grade Level).  And a “*” means the skill has not been introduced or is not being assessed.  

So when my son asked, “How many A’s did I get mom?”  

I replied, “You did very well.”  

“How well?”

“Well, you got an S in everything,” I answered.

“What does that mean?”

Now I ask you, how helpful does any of this sound to either a parent or more importantly to a child?

My son worked hard this year. He learned to read, add, subtract, even multiply and speak Spanish, yet at the end of the year he has no sense of how well he did or did not perform. It almost seems on purpose.

I am pleased with his school, a public elementary school in a small district near Atlanta. I spent every Friday morning volunteering in his classroom and witnessed the immense amount of teaching and learning that occurred in this classroom throughout the year. His teacher was acutely aware of her role in developing these little learners. But she was also hamstrung by the systems and tools she was required to use to report student progress.

Last summer my mother found an old trunk of my father’s from his days in the navy. Among pictures of old girlfriends, a flag from Mt. Kyoto, letters, a gun, and other mementos of a life, we found his grade school report cards. My father attended Catholic schools in Chicago and even fifty years later it was easy for us to determine his progress as well as particular areas of difficulty. In neat rows and columns the nuns had assigned letter grades for each grading period. I could see just how well my dad knew his second-grade arithmetic, how well he behaved, and which subject he found troubling in fifth grade.  

My son has no idea where he stands at the end of first grade. My husband only knows that it seems my son is doing pretty well. I know where my son stands because, I spent many hours in graduate school learning about reading programs, lexile scores, Accelerated Reader, SRA, COGAT, ITBS, MAPP tests and the myriad of ways educators try to quantify and measure student progress.

Just take a look at this recommendation for improving education in the U.S. in an industry publication. In this Education Week article as in most, the conversation focuses on testing, standards, policy, research and theory. We can throw every kind of theory, new learning model, curriculum plan, national standards, Bill Gates-approved improvement plan at the educational system in this country. But until we get back to the basics of the student-teacher-parent relationship, we are never going to change things.

Can’t we simplify things? Get back to basics?  Should parents really need an advanced degree in education to understand their first-grader’s report card?

I think not, but it seems the education admins seem to prefer it that way.

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