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Looking for a true “progress report” for the guys

Submitted by on Tuesday, 20 October 2009 No Comment
Funny how an off-hand comment from three decades ago can stick with you, its implications changing over time.

For me, the comment came during the summer between sixth and seventh grade, when I was visiting the old neighborhood. I rushed to see my former first-grade teacher, who also was a beloved neighbor, to share the "big news" of a writing award I'd won.

"I knew you were going to be good at that," she smiled. "Now, math, that's different. I could always tell you were never going to be any good there."

The careless comment can be attributed in part to the time and place - this was the 70s, and the cliche of the era was that girls couldn't do math. That part doesn't bother me anymore. These days, I know that she was wrong - I'm no nuclear physicist, but I could handle algebra before I forgot it all.

What bugs me now is wondering why, if she "knew" I was awful at math, no one did anything about it.

Just as I wonder why, if Big Guy's kindergarten teacher knew he was struggling last year with penmanship, I never got a clear message that he needed extra help. Yes, I could see that his handwriting was bad. But I had no way of knowing that it was that much worse than that of the average kindergartener.

And I'm stumped as to how to get past that. It's an important question, because children who don't get help soon enough risk either falling hopelessly behind or never living up to their potentials. I'm not sure which is the greater tragedy.

Report cards give you little to go on. They're a bit better now than they used to be - back in the day, we received only a 1, 2 or 3 in very broad categories. Today, in California at least, you're told whether a child is meeting, approaching or not meeting state standards for a range of subjects, which in turn are broken down into categories. Except then you have to figure out what the state standard is that they're supposed to meet. It's do-able but difficult if you're not used to wading through education-speak.

Parent-teacher conferences? Those happen once a year, and they've been in early fall the past two years for Big Guy. Last year's took place before his writing struggles became obvious.

Standardized testing? Even if you worship at the altar of the bubble test, we're about a decade past pretending those are diagnostic tools. If they were, we wouldn't let children struggle for an additional six months before waving a flag that says, "yep, there's a problem."

Work coming home from school? To a certain extent that system's do-able, though there's a risk of micro-managing or, even worse, giving a kid the impression that you're riding him over every little mistake.

I've finally settled on a completely unscientific, cobbled-together solution:

Are the guys learning new words and concepts, both from books and the world around them? Are they able to transfer what they learn at school to real life, particularly in science and math? Can they participate during story time - answering questions after we finish, embellishing the story? Are they increasingly able to figure out the world on their own?

I have no idea, of course, whether this assessment is any more or less valid than the official systems. That's the challenge of figuring out what a "good" education is. The most important test isn't the SAT or a college final. It's the test of life, and those results have a way of not showing themselves for decades.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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