On the Subject of Grades

By now all parents should have received their son’s report on effort and learning, otherwise known as the report card. This end-of-trimester assessment gives students and parents a quick glimpse of the year’s progress. While the first trimester report card details curriculum goals for the year ahead, this trimester’s report outlines how those goals are being met and whether new objectives are needed.


Educators have a love-hate relationship with the numbers, letters, and percentages that make up “grades”. Often feedback seems outdated by the time the report card is distributed. A student may have progressed beyond that B- or has had a surge of newfound responsibility that would say B+ rather than C for a homeroom effort grade. However, it is helpful for teachers to communicate marks that clearly indicate either progress or room for growth at designated times during the year. This can inspire motivation or at least conversation.


One downside to grades as part of the feedback process is that it can reward product over process. Many times grades are based on a calculate average of tests, quizzes, and projects. The product at the end of a unit was assessed and feedback along the way may have been minimal. A boy can see himself as an A student or a C student in a subject area and give up rather than see himself more positively on a continuum of learning that requires constant effort. No matter how much we discourage this fixed mindset thinking, students often compare grades and rank themselves against their peers. As I have related in previous posts, at Gilman School we are looking at ways to reward effort, encourage process over product, and assess boys in new, more comprehensive ways. Hopefully we will be able to encourage growth mindset as we assess our boys and report on their learning to parents.


Too much emphasis on grades can add to an increasingly stressful world for our students. Our boys often express concern about their reading or math group or getting the good grades their parents expect. Look for signs of stress (trouble sleeping, unusual irritability or tears, `words of self-deprecation, or an attitude of “I don’t care” about school) and remind your son of what is most important- always try your best and that failure is an important part of the learning process (growth mindset). Discuss the fact that the process of learning is moving on a continuum at the right pace for the individual and it doesn’t need to look the same as friends or classmates.


I hope that my communication with you each week encourages “talking points” to inspire conversation with your son or sons. Here are some “talking points” based on recent school events.



  • If you are in Kindergarten- What did you enjoy about the Parade of Penguins you and your classmates marched in before break? Did you see your big buddy when you walked the halls? What is your favorite Dr. Seuss story?
  • If you are in Prep-One- What signs of spring did you notice as you walked through the woods? What do you think that you may see the next time your class explores the stream?
  • If you are in First Grade- What type of story is Little House on the Prairie? What do you already know about pioneers and their early journey by wagon westward?
  • If you are in Second Grade- What have you learned from the parents and family members that have come in to school to talk about their family heritage?
  • If you are in Third Grade- Soon you will be learning about Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery- what do you already know? Have you been to Harpers Ferry?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- Which of your classmates did the best job with their MD African American report? What did you learn that surprised you?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- The Read-a-thon is over- did you read enough to reach your personal goal? How much money did the school raise?


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