The marking period is just ended and when the report card comes home from elementary school, I’ll think twice about which segment my eyes run to first – the grades or the social development/class behavior comments. This is on the heels of a conversation that I had with another father as our boys got ready for a Fall baseball game, and the father, Scott, presented me with a viewpoint on an issue that I never truly considered before.
Although the format might differ, almost all elementary schools break out their report cards into two sections. The one section pertains to the grades that were earned while the second covers the social development and behavioral aspects of Junior’s time at school. The teacher usually also provides a brief written synopsis of how Junior’s developing and interacting with the teachers and peers. I can’t speak for other districts, but our elementary report card lists the grades on the left hand side of the page, which are then followed by the development/behavior aspects in the remainder; the teacher’s assessment paragraph is written on a separate sheet of paper. As we read from left to right, and the grades are placed on the left side, they are naturally the first thing to be seen.
Scott’s take on the report card was that he really went right past the grades and focused on the developmental/behavioral aspects of his son’s school experience. In his view, the more important aspect at this level of school was how his son was developing and interacting with his peers; grades certainly mattered, but a poor grade could flow from simply not understanding the material or else from something that was discussed in the development/behavior section. In the case of the former, measures could be taken to help the child understand the material better and bring the grade up. In the case of the latter, then it didn’t matter what you did with assistance and remedial work, but would still require more intentional – and usually more difficult – work on the question of behavior and development. Drilling a kid on the multiplication tables to improve performance is far easier than trying to parse through why Junior behaves a certain way or whether there’s something else coming into play in development.
This viewpoint was simply something that I’ve never considered. Ours is a grades first household – You want to try this? Then show me the grades, first. – and while the other aspects are indeed just as important, they were something that I went to after I’d satisfied myself that the grades were in order. The father has a legitimate point in his comments. Grades are frequently symptoms of a deeper, underlying issue and even if the immediate issue of the grade is corrected, the developmental side can fester until it erupts much later if it isn’t addressed early.
When the report card comes out of the backpack in about a week, I’ll be remembering his comments before I read the report.