Make Better Grades?
(C) 2003, Don Mize
Parents desire success for their child, and grades are the measure of success. Yet, what do grades actually measure? We assume they must be important, for even schools and school districts are being graded and are hounded or punished if they do not make the proper grade. Education, it seems, has been reduced to receiving the proper grade (i.e., making it look right on paper). Is something being lost? President George Bush jokes about providing hope for the C students in the world because of his academic record. Last week I stumbled across a TV interview with Tom Brokaw in which the commentator joked about his difficulty in college, and he mentioned that Vice President Dick Cheney flunked out of Yale twice. Grades are the measure of everything except success.
In my Better Grades program, I often find unmotivated students who have given up. Someone somewhere told these students that if they did not have the proper grades by the time they left junior high, they could not get into college. Not only is that untrue, the result was despair rather than motivation.
Parents, on the other hand, buy into the grade hype. One strength of my Better Grades program is that I work with at least one parent. Parents often make matters worse, becoming frantic because their child is not “reaching her potential.” Thus, a parent hounds the student and creates a situation where the student concentrates on beating the parent rather than on learning. Probably some of this is inevitable, for teachers are graded, schools are graded, and administrators are graded. Everyone’s life is made miserable, fear and threat are the primary motivating forces, and we learn how to make it look right on paper.
We live in a society that values objective measurement. Politicians and administrators must prove that Johnny can read when actually Johnny has only learned to take the test. I have personally experienced in private sessions many students who could fill out worksheets correctly without understanding the material. These students had learned how to “take the test.” Also, more than once a student has read perfectly a selection on a fifth grade level only to demonstrate later they understood nothing. The student had learned to sound out words phonetically and gave the appearance of understanding, but could not even define the words. My sources in higher education tell me that the “Texas Miracle” in education actually sends to their colleges students who are less well prepared. According to these sources, students have learned to take the Texas tests, but the performance doesn’t carry over to other tests or to class work. All this is, of course, controversial and is the subject of a nationwide debate.
Since for twenty years I have been sitting down with students one-on-one with my Better Grades program and have seen grades improve at least a letter, seen parents develop realistic ways to help their children succeed, and seen C students find themselves to make A’s in college, I will dare make some suggestions. The first suggestion is to stop fixating on grades and concentrate on learning. Learning, not the grade, is the goal.
Most poor grades are a reflection of poor motivation. You child may be learning, but everything is graded. One zero on a daily assignment not turned in or on a major test not prepared for dramatically lowers the grade. The younger the child, the more the parent must take responsibility for providing motivation, but older students must learn self-motivation skills. Life skills such as self-motivation, organization, time management, and stress management are reflected in grades. Go behind the grade to find the real problem.
Parents who focus on the grade resort to unrealistic threats or to empty
rewards to fix the grade. Parents who focus on learning use the grade
as the starting point. Your child is learning every day. He
may be learning to be irresponsible, learning to be lazy, learning to lie
to avoid facing reality, learning to waste time, or learning how to make
it look right on paper. How much better if life skills are being
learned that lead to success within and outside the classroom.