What’s in a Grade?

As the school year begins and students turn in their first assignments and take their first tests, it can be a helpful time to ask ourselves: “What’s in a grade?”

Grades are a feedback mechanism that let parents know how their child is doing in relation to the standard set by the teacher for that assignment or subject. Grades are not a goal in and of themselves. Grades are not a measure of how successful your child will be at age forty. Grades are not a measure of your child’s worth as a person. Grades are not a measure of how much your child loves God.

For those who are new to Paideia, a few notes about our grading system: In elementary (K-6th), we try to steer away from the typical percentage-based grade system of the modern academic system. (What makes a narration paragraph an 89 rather than an 88? Can you even put a number on an art project?) Instead of quantitative grading, we try to use qualitative grading, using the terms Excellent (E), Praiseworthy (P), Satisfactory (S), Needs Improvement (N), and Unsatisfactory (U).

In secondary (7th-12th), we do use the standard A, B, C, F grading system (more because we need our high school transcripts to be comprehensible to the world at large than because we love that system). We don’t have a “D” grade.

Another note about our grading system to keep in mind: grades are always relative. This does not mean that the standard changes in regard to individual students (that would be unjust!), but it does mean that depending on individual aptitude and gifting, the same grade can mean two different things for two different students. Grades must be interpreted based on what you know about your own child.

A “B” in Chemistry for an extraordinarily bright student with excellent number sense could be a mark of coasting and laziness. That same “B” for another less mathematically-minded student who worked his tail off puzzling out the homework problems and studying for the test, is a mark of high honor and achievement. In the same way, an “S” in penmanship for the first grader who sloppily rushes through his work means something very different that the “S” for the first grader who struggles with dexterity and erased and rewrote his copywork three times, each time making it slightly better.

The important thing, then, is not perfection but faithfulness. “Were you faithful with the time and talent God gave you when you earned this C? Then rest in what you have done.”

As our students continue to grow over the months and over the years, their efforts increase their abilities and their skills develop and change. Our calling as parents and teachers is to seek to continually know our students so that we can interpret their grades fairly, encouraging them to reach their full potential while refraining from overburdening them with impossible expectations.

Jesus speaks in one of his parables about the servant who buried his talent in the ground instead of putting it to use, illustrating this maxim: To whom much is given, much is required. Let us require our children to fully redeem the time and talents that God has given them, and let us love them well as they do it.