Understanding grades is no longer as easy as ABC

I KNOW I have written about the dubious joys of school parents’ evenings before but this week I had the best parents’ evening in my entire career as a parent.

So good that I cannot help but share my delight. So good that it left me almost euphoric and fairly quivering with excitement.

No doubt you are expecting me to reveal proclamations of brilliance bestowed on my offspring from gushing teachers who have been wowed by my child’s genius.

You are probably expecting predictions of my child as future prime minister at the very least. Possibly even a future Nobel Prize winner. Even both.

But no, my post-parents’ evening euphoria had absolutely nothing to do with what was said.

It was based entirely on the fact that I was in and out in 15 minutes! Fifteen minutes!

Now, if you are a parent, you will no doubt be stunned by this revelation — but you will totally understand my sheer unadulterated delight.

Parents’ evenings are normally such long, drawn-out affairs involving at least 15 different 10-deep queues that wise parents bring their own flask and sandwiches to get them through.

But not this time! A mere one teacher to see as it was just the start of the year — and it was an absolute pleasure.

It was almost irrelevant what Sir said about my child. He could have told me that my precious offspring was the spawn of the devil — I would still have been euphoric to have been in and out in 15 minutes.

Once the excitement of being home before 8pm had dissipated, I was able to reflect on the mark sheet Sir had talked me through.

Despite my being in the business of parenting for nigh on 20 years, I am still struggling to understand the data that populates parents’ evening and school reports.

It used to be really easy to understand whether your kid was destined for greatness or mediocrity. Being awarded letters towards the start of the alphabet generally indicated that more positive outcomes in terms of academic success were likely.

Nowadays, it’s not so simple. For one thing, we no longer get one score for a subject. Nowadays your child could be bestowed with up to three different scores for each subject. Effort grades and predicted grades, I get — one score for how hard they are trying and one for how much that effort is likely to translate into results. Easy.

But then there are these mysterious “target grades” too, which I have never really understood.

A decade or so ago, these would be based on some cognitive ability tests that your child took at age 10 or 11 and that trailed them their entire school life in the form of those “target” grades that popped up on their school reports.

Nowadays I am not entirely sure where these mysterious target grades originate from. SATs maybe, or perhaps some complex algorithm has been employed to calculate them. Maybe they just ask “Siri” and she decides them.

I could cope with the three sets of scores on the doors if they used nice simple letters like back in the day. “A” meant a pat on the back and “D” meant cutting back on the TV. Easy.

But now we have numbers. And often letters, too, just to keep us on our toes.

Your child might get a 4, “B” and 7 for English — a combo that is not too hard to get a handle on as long as you remember that bigger numbers are better than smaller ones.

But then there are minus numbers, too, sometimes which can leave you scratching your head.

And then there are mysterious times when you expect a number but find a letter has taken up residence instead.

And then the letters don’t always mean what they used to.

I recall a friend once telling me that their older child had obtained a “D” in something. I arranged my features into an appropriate display of sympathy, only to realise from my friend’s demeanour that I had misunderstood — it seems that “D” can now mean Distinction.

And an “E”, which used to mean a rather bad fail, can now mean Exceptional. Then there are some subjects where your child insists that a 3 rather than a 9 is the highest possible grade at that time — and you don’t know there they are trying it on or not.

The opportunities for confusion seem endless; a friend whose young child received a -2, E++ and 2+ doesn’t know whether to congratulate their kid or berate him.

Or just emigrate to a country with a more simplified scoring system.

I actually think that once you crack the code and work out what it all means, the richness of data that schools now provide about your child’s progress is excellent and that they should be applauded for all the effort that goes into creating the data (and I’m sure Siri is never involved).

And, of course, for managing to get parents in and out in 15 minutes at parents’ evening.


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