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Rewarding Grades in School

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: My first-grader is in an academically great school. I have a basic issue with a special event that takes place every nine weeks. If children get all E's (excellent) -- versus S (satisfactory), P (passing), or U (unsatisfactory) -- they participate in a picnic outside. The S, P, and U students eat in the cafeteria.

To me, this labels the good kids versus the bad kids in a very public and humiliating manner. An S student is perfectly acceptable but clumped into the "bad kid" category for that event. The majority of the students are at the event, leaving those in the cafeteria very sullen.

I've expressed my concern for this unnecessary public humiliation. There is nothing to reward the kids who may have an S in conduct and all E's in their subjects. This seems old-fashioned, and I wonder what it's doing to our kids' self-esteem. Any advice?

A: Many old-fashioned educational ideas are still very worthwhile today. Rewards remain a good way to acknowledge achievement. That's why schools have honor rolls and awards events.

Admittedly, standards often seem unfair when students only miss getting an award by a small amount. However, receiving the reward is wonderful and motivational for the students who earn it.

Keep in mind the importance of conduct. A disruptive child in the classroom will prevent the other students from learning. Is that fair? How about the student who misses an E in math by only one point but who has an E in conduct?

Since your child is only in first grade, you may need some help in understanding special events like the rewards picnic. There should be several people at the school who could give you a better perspective on the event. It is certainly not dividing the children into good and bad kids, but rewarding some for outstanding work. You need to talk to your child's teacher and other parents in the parent/teacher association.

Of course, schools are supposed to be places where students can build their self-esteem. However, do you think never giving rewards will build everyone's self-esteem? Ask any student about her reading group, and then ask if the other groups are higher or lower. The student knows the answer without the teacher ever saying a word.

Remember, your attitude will affect your first-grader's self-esteem. Don't discuss this around your child because it will cause even more harm. You need to learn what battles you should fight for your child and when to just let go.

More on: Expert Advice

Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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