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You say beginning, I say failing, does it matter?

Thom wonders whether a kinder, softer school system is any better than what he grew up with
For your consideration - Thom Barker

It’s that time of year.

Yep, report card time.

Now, it’s been a long time since I had school-age kids and apparently, a lot has changed since I did.

For one thing, it’s no longer a report card, it’s a “Record of Ongoing Communications of Student Learning,” which sounds to me a lot like a convoluted and long-winded way of saying report card.

Also, letter grades, which were still the norm when I was a school child, have long been replaced. When my own kids were young, I believe the scale was along the lines of not meeting expectations, minimally meeting expectations, meeting expectations and exceeding expectations.

Now it is beginning, developing, applying and extending.

Talk about sugar-coating.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those, ahem, more senior members of society who had to walk five miles to and from school uphill both ways in a snowstorm.

I am trying and willing to understand how this new “rubric” is somehow better. I can’t imagine how parents could be stupider today than they were when my parents were raising us or when we were raising our kids.

So, let’s break it down, shall we? Beginning means the student is starting to understand at grade-level expectations. That sounds a lot like an F or a D to me.

Extending means the student is going beyond grade-level expectations, i.e., an A or A+.

I know for a fact, my parents understood when I brought home an A+ they knew it meant I was exceeding the expectations of the system.

And I know for a fact, parents today understand when their kid brings home a “beginning” their kid is failing.

No matter what you call it, everything depends on the teachers and parents. A volatile millennial generation parent, for example, can get just as angry with a “beginning” as a volatile silent generation parent could with an F.

And a compassionate baby boomer parent was just as capable of helping a child to get beyond a B as a compassionate Gen X parent is to help their child turn a “meeting expectations” to an “exceeding.”

Fundamentally, education has not changed. We are trying to give children the tools to become successful adults.

Curricula change, but the expectations of curricula are the same. And, of course, whether you call it a C or a “developing” the result is the same.

Also, no matter what you call it, not everybody has the same capabilities. Someone who struggles to get beyond “beginning” in mathematics may easily achieve “extending” in English.

The Record of Ongoing Communications of Student Learning is there to help parents and teachers assess the capabilities of students to guide them to a path that will make them successful adults, which means something different to everybody.

Failing is a harsh word.

Beginning puts a more positive spin on the same reality.

I suppose if the point is to help people be the best they can be, it’s better to be kind about it even if it is sugar-coating.

Thom Barker

About the Author: Thom Barker

After graduating with a geology degree from Carleton University and taking a detour through the high tech business, Thom started his journalism career as a fact-checker for a magazine in Ottawa in 2002.
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