You Are Not Your Grade

Report cards in special education classes are a contentious issue. Often times, no matter the effort put forth, no matter the good feelings cultivated, no matter the strength of students’ beliefs that they are doing well, the grades are low because they are aligned to grade level standards.

This is unfortunate. In a culture where numbers have become more significant in schools than names, most students with a disability who are held to these standards really don’t have a chance. The issue is complicated further when parents only see numbers, as opposed to anecdotes and positive feedback, as indicative of what their child has accomplished.

It feels like a battle that can’t be won. So I ask, “What is the point?” This is not a question of whether we should give grades, but rather a question of whether students with disabilities – already with so much working against them – should be painted with the same broad grading brush as the general education population.

I submit that they should not. When they are, grades become punitive, injurious, and stress-inducing. They don’t motivate. Even if a student “tries harder” (who is to say they’re not already trying their hardest?), the reality usually is that grades will still show an inaccurate and unjust portrait of a student who just wants to do well, be respected, and taste success.

So I’ll remind my students again that the grades don’t tell the whole picture. I’ll continue to ask them if they feel they’ve been doing well in school, if they’re feeling good about themselves, if they’re learning. I won’t be able to squeeze these important intangibles into a number, but maybe squeezing them into students’ and parents’ heads will be enough.


8 responses to “You Are Not Your Grade

  1. I think for kids that walk in and say, “What do I need to do to get and ‘A’?” Grades are Ok because those kids are wired that way. For everyone else – not so good. They just serve to reinforce that the 90% aren’t as good – and should not even bother to try. You really see this at the high school level.

    Thanks for sharing – good things to think about.

  2. My question…who are grades for? Are they ever for the kids? If they aren’t, why do we have them? There are better ways to show learning, be accountable to our teaching, while helping (and not harming) our kids.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Well traditionalists would argue, yes, they are for the kids. Only problem is, the traditional way of thinking assumes that a grade is indicative of a lot more than it truly is.

  3. Being a special education teacher I feel the same as you do! We need to set standards for these individual students and make them feel good for the accomplishments they have made (Follow the child model). What upsets me is the fact that they try their hardest and when state testing comes around they’re upset and frustrated because that test says they made little or no improvements in the least; when in fact we’ve seen them grow in ways noone could imagine!

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