progress reportWhen I was teaching 6th grade, I would have a parent conference every now and then, and if you had been sitting with us, you would have heard this:

“I don’t know what is going on. Sam is a straight-A student. He always has been a straight-A student. All the way from kindergarten to sixth grade, he has been a straight-A student. What could be the problem now?”

I always wanted to tell them: There is no such thing as a straight-A student.

A straight-A student is like a unicorn. I’d like to see one, but they don’t exist. There IS such thing as “A-work,” however. A student who consistently produces “A-work” gets straight-A’s. A student who stops producing “A-work” stops getting straight-A’s. The same type of thing could be said of a baseball player. One who gets a base hit every time he bats is said to be “batting a thousand.” When he stops batting perfectly, no one keeps saying he is a player who bats a thousand. His past performance record is irrelevant. What he does now is the only thing.

The grades a student used to earn in kindergarten, in first grade, in second grade, in any other grade are almost irrelevant, too. We can ask, “Why has she started turning in assignments past the due date this year?” or “Why are her notes incomplete in this class?” If she did not show these trends in previous grades, then a discussion of comparison is important. Isolating a behavior for comparison from year to year will turn up all kinds of useful information– changes in friends, changes in sleeping and eating habits, changes in temperament, etc. Just comparing grades, across the years? That tells us virtually nothing.

This is why I am hoping that everyone who is reading this will resist the urge to post their child’s straight-A report card on social media next school year. Last year, I saw quite a few people doing it, and I am not sure it is a good idea to keep this trend going. Here are various reasons to stop sharing your child’s academic information:

1. It’s bragging.

2. The intense pressure that it puts on a child is liable to make him crack. Would you want your performance record for your work made public?

3. What happens when he earns a “C?” Are you going to post that, too? Where is the space to be imperfect?

I love it when I come across one of my old report cards or progress reports. My grades ran the gamut. I guess I was known for having high grades. If you asked anyone who graduated high school with me, they might tell you I was a straight-A student, but that wouldn’t be true at all. I had plenty of low grades. Then I self-adjusted by following low grades with high grades, and sometimes I ended well. My mother never showed any of my grades, high or low, to anyone. When I received a bad progress report, she didn’t try to tell me that I was a straight-A student and should act like one. She just said (and sometimes yelled), “Nika, you are more than capable of “A-work.” Why are you letting your assignments slide?”

In my home, my grades reflected my work. My grades did not reflect who I am.

As a result, I graduated from high school with honors. But if my mother had lived in the Internet age and had posted a picture of me holding that trophy for “High-Ranking Girl,” she would have been humiliated nine months later, when her straight-A student brought home an “F” from her first semester in college.

Please know, my mother did not take this in stride. In fact, she was furious that I was wasting money. Deep down, though, I believed what she’d always said: “An ‘A’ on a report card does not mean you are an ‘A-student.'” Therefore, I knew an “F” on on my report card did not mean I was an “F-student.” That is how I was able to recover well by the time I finished my bachelor’s.

The phrase “Failure is not an option,” might work for NASA, but it doesn’t work for children (or college students). We have to cultivate space for failure. There has to be some room for our children to self-adjust after an evaluation of any kind. We can take the opportunity to teach this truth in the grade school years because it will be important to carry into adulthood. One, two, three successes do not make you a success. One, two, three failures do not make you a failure.

It happened again last semester in graduate school. I earned a 68 on a test. I was appalled. After calculating the percentages, I discovered that the only way I could make an A for the course would be to self-adjust and earn a 99 or a 100 on the final exam. Normally, I would have thought this was impossible in that course. With focused effort, though, I did it. I know how to right myself when I start to tip because I have been doing it throughout my academic career. Failure isn’t the time to give up; it is the time to get busy.

There is successful work and there is unsuccessful work. Report cards were only ever meant to teach us how to navigate between the two.

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