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.