Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Measure of a Child

Before the January report cards came the emails and notices, full of reminders that “our students are held to high expectations” and “the most important thing is that students work to their ability.”  We received messages about report cards numerous times: an email from Concord, e-mails from each of our kids’ teachers, links in the weekly online newsletters.  Our kindergartner came home with a semi-personalized message, the Dear __________ filled in with her wobbly MOM and a backwards “d” at the end of the DAD.  This letter’s pre-printed text reminded us that she was lovable all the time and not defined by her report card, or words to that effect.
While the first communication felt informative and provided context for what a 3 vs. a 2 or a 4 meant, by the time that last letter arrived, with our kindergartener’s signature, we were beginning to wonder. As newcomers to the Edina Public Schools, my husband and I shared an uncomfortable laugh, wondering if perhaps students all over our newly adopted town were being taken to task by a bizarre Edina version of the Tiger Mom, baring her fangs, irate over anything less than a sheet filled with “4 (Advanced-exceeds standard with independence).” The multiple notices felt like too much protest, as if the powers-that-be have seen so much overreaction to grades that they needed to prep the parents to be the grown-ups.  Is this what it means to be living in a town with a nationally recognized school district?  Where the administrators have to make sure that parents keep report cards in perspective?

I recently received the newsletter from our previous elementary school, a quintessential neighborhood school nestled in a small suburb of Boston.  I stay subscribed to this weekly bit of community because the principal often opens the newsletter with a few short paragraphs of heart-string-twanging humanity.  A few weeks ago, he wrote about the stress caused by the constant testing and evaluating of our students. 

He writes, “Iʼm here to say, with anger and frustration, that many (maybe most) students are beginning to believe that their (testing) score is a measure of themselves as individuals—that it somehow helps define their value to a watchful and anxious adult world.”  He goes on to advocate not sharing testing scores with your children, and instead to communicate that you love your child just as they are, that you wouldn’t change a thing about them.

He ends by saying, “Children will recover from every conceivable snub, mishap, incident, and tragedy except one—the belief that they are a disappointment to their parents.  The stress from that belief is unresolvable.” 

I found his words powerful, and a much-needed reminder to leave the grading and testing to the school.  Our message needs to be consistent: “Do your best.”  And our responsibility to our children is to communicate that their best is defined by much more than the numbers on a page from school.  Their best includes all of their talents, their compassion and loyalty and friendship to others, their sense of wonder at the world, their effort.   

So much more than those numbers.

Alisa Skatrud

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