When I was in college, I was asked to write an answer to that question in my basic Philosophy Class. My professor was actually expecting us to answer and defend that grades do not measure anything at all. Well, grades are numeric and surely they do not measure all things, but they certainly measure something. I have written that a grade measures your capability to deliver as you are expected to, to adapt your learning style to a certain teaching style in order to absorb information and to be diligent in helping yourself interpolate and extrapolate information.
It’s been more than a decade since I last concerned myself with grades and schools. I am actually already a mom of a grade 1 pupil.
Being young parents, our experiences with our 6-year-old boy are most of the time “firsts.” And last week, we experienced an exam-week for him. For the first time.
You see, he wakes up at 6AM, gets on his school bus at 7:15 and goes back to me before 4PM. . And he has this schedule since KG-1 at the age of four. So, in the house, we just allow him to play outside a little, have dinner, wash up and sleep. He has chores like throwing the garbage after school and he is also trained to put his shoes on the shoe rack, his used uniforms to the laundry bin, and his lunch boxes and water container to the sink. We haven’t incorporated a study time on our routine yet primarily because we have always believed his school schedule was already too long for his age. We actually encourage diligence and discipline in the house; but we need balance in everything.
Came exam week. The night before the first day, we happened to visit a neighbor and learned that mental math exam would be timed. Max of 10 seconds for each question. We haven’t even studied a bit. Although we know from random questions we throw at him that he can perform well on Mathematics, and so can he for Mental Math. The family actually loves Math.
When we got back home, I retrieved the reviewer and randomly asked him again. He could tell the answers well within 10 seconds so we felt ok.
The next morning while waiting for the bus, I learned from a co-parent that there would be 30 questions to be answered in 5 minutes. Funny I felt like Matthew would be taking a board exam (sort of a professional licensure exam). But then I just told Matthew, “We studied. So just enjoy the exam.”
One morning during that week, while waiting for the bus again, I saw that a co-parent went all the way to doing a written mock exam and it made sense to me. To get them correct in the exams, the child should know how to write them, too. And to write them correctly and fast. Wow! She’s a diligent mom.
Anyway, some results are out and they’re good. He got some perfect, one result with 2 mistakes and I need to help him in French because he got half of the questions wrong. And this indicates a healthy study habit is already needed for him.
The mental math score is not yet out. But one morning during breakfast, Matthew said, “Mom, I think I failed at mental math because I get 5 questions wrong.” In my mind, “it’s 5 out of 30. It’s not bad.” So I clarified what happened. “I ran out of time,” he said. Ok, so he wasn’t able to answer 5 questions. I asked again, “How about for the other questions?” He answered, “They’re all easy, Mommy.” Let’s see.
His breakfasts are our time alone with each other. His dad leaves at 6:10; and his sister won’t be up until he’s at school. And when he brings to the table conversations like this, I must be very careful of what I’m imparting to him. That morning I felt like I need to explain to him what a grade measures. That it does not measure all things, only a part of it. And while getting good grades is part of his responsibilities while growing up, it’s not all there is.
His grades do not measure for example that he can already take care of himself and do some things for his sister, too. The grades do not indicate how good a brother he is. And that he can perform well his set of home-chores. It doesn’t tell that he knows taekwondo. That he learned riding the bicycle in 5 minutes and the motorcycle in an instant. That he dances really gracefully and can sing some praise songs, too. And that he’s not afraid to try swimming in a deep pool. And that he braved a surgery last summer.
Clearly, grades do not say a lot. And while diligence and competence are important, surely perfectionism and competitiveness are not. Children must learn how to enjoy learning sans pressures for high marks. And when they grow up to be responsible, independent and empathetic adults, then that is real excellence. I pray we parents will all have the wisdom from above to lead them well.