De­fense of bad grades flunks the dad test

The Columbus Dispatch - - Metro&state - THEODORE DECKER

Iknow some­thing’s up when my son walks in the door, plunks down his back­pack and starts talk­ing about the value of a well-rounded ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence in which grades play only a small part.

“My big­gest dis­ap­point­ment,” he says, “is that we con­tinue to pro­file stu­dents based on a very lim­ited set of met­rics. I’m con­cerned about any score, but again, I look at it holis­ti­cally.”

I fix my gaze on him. It takes me only a mo­ment to make the con­nec­tion.

“Say,” I in­quire, “aren’t re­port cards com­ing out in two days?”

“Well, time to hit the books,” he abruptly de­clares, beat­ing a hasty re­treat to his bed­room.

Two days later, I have his re­port card in hand.

It isn’t good.

“Mind telling me what hap­pened?” I ask him.

“Look, Dad,” he says, sit­ting down and fold­ing his hands in his lap. “Any par­tic­u­lar class­room is a unique col­lec­tion of … stu­dents who come to the ta­ble with their own bless­ings and chal­lenges. It’s mis­lead­ing to look at the re­port card and jump to the con­clu­sion

that, look, be­cause a grade is low, there must be some­thing wrong with the stu­dent.”

He has a straight face as he says this, which is im­pres­sive. I look at him, then down again at the re­port card.

“But it isn’t just one grade that’s low, kiddo,” I say. “I’m see­ing D’s and F’s all over the place.”

As I say this, I’m re­minded of a dis­cus­sion we had last fall af­ter another lack­lus­ter aca­demic show­ing.

“While I wel­come ac­count­abil­ity,” my son said at the time, “a one-time assess­ment sys­tem with many dif­fer­ent fac­tors as­so­ci­ated with it does not rep­re­sent a true re­flec­tion of my grades and it does not de­fine who I am.”

New year, same old story. He says, “We know there

is so much more to a child’s learn­ing and growth than what is mea­sured on these re­ports, which of­fer only a lim­ited snap­shot on a hand­ful of in­di­ca­tors.”

I say, “You’re up a creek with­out a pad­dle. And your ca­noe is tak­ing on wa­ter.” He plays his best hand. “What would you say,” he asks, “If I told you that ev­ery­thing I’ve said came di­rectly from the mouths of Ohio’s school ad­min­is­tra­tors re­gard­ing their dis­trict re­port cards?” “Ev­ery­thing?” I ask. “Pretty much,” he says. “I changed a few nouns and tweaked some verbs to fit my cir­cum­stance, but the gist of ev­ery­thing was theirs. The stuff about bless­ings and chal­lenges was Paolo DeMaria, the state Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment’s su­per­in­ten­dent of public in­struc­tion. I read that quote in the Day­ton Daily News.”

The kid is clever. I’ll give him that.

“Who said the bit about met­rics, and look­ing at this holis­ti­cally?”

“Dr. Good, su­per­in­ten­dent of Colum­bus City Schools. He said it about dis­tricts, though, not stu­dents. That’s the only word I changed.”

“Nice touch, kid, but I would sug­gest that there is lit­tle to be gained in par­rot­ing the de­flec­tions of well-com­pen­sated su­per­in­ten­dents as they try to spin their statei­den­ti­fied short­com­ings. My pa­tience is thread­bare. Get your grades up.”

“I am con­fi­dent we can do it — I am very con­fi­dent,” he says. “What we need to do now, more than ever, is go from ‘We can’ to ‘We must and we will.’”

That’s another ad­min­is­tra­tor you’re quot­ing, isn’t it?”

“Eric Gor­don, the CEO of Cleve­land schools,” he says. “It’s ver­ba­tim.”

“Well, then,” I say, “to build off Mr. Gor­don’s sen­ti­ment, I would re­mind you of the deal we have re­gard­ing your iPhone, Xbox and Nin­tendo Switch. Your mother and I can seize those, and if this sub­stan­dard aca­demic per­for­mance per­sists, we must and we will.

“In this house, there are con­se­quences.”

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