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How to Interpret Grades

Education Expert Advice from Barbara Callaghan

Q: In our school district, children are placed into reading groups with no information about these groups given to the parents. While my son earned all A's and B's in reading, I just recently found out that it was a low group. While I doubt they would refuse to share the info with questioning parents, I fear many parents are fooled into thinking all is well by the distinct possibility that children can earn high grades in below average groups. Please note that there is no info given about the reading groups on report cards either.

When I questioned school authorities about this, they downplayed my concerns, saying that if parents want to know a child's level, they can refer to the Iowa's. I fear parents don't realize that this test is often the sole determinant of where there child is placed, and that parents might easily dismiss the results of one test, especially since the school performance is otherwise satisfactory. What do you think? Am I nitpicking here as they seem to feel, or are my concerns legitimate... and if so, what can I do to change this system?

A: All concerns are legitimate and you need to pursue your concerns until you are satisfied. That is not to say that the system needs to be changed. Often, in education, we use terms and make assumptions without intending to mislead parents when, in fact, we do. We actually strive to work as partners with parents to provide the very best education and feedback so that each child will reach their fullest potential. Teachers want the support of parents so that together we can educate your children.

In school districts that have reading groups (as opposed to school districts that use whole language with flexible grouping) there are often three reading groups that fall into a relative relationship of high, medium and low. This is done so that reading skills can be taught to a small group at a more intense level and particular to their need. It is usually quite successful and improvement can be seen, demonstrated, and tested. A child who shows good effort, makes progress and continually improves is rewarded with praise and positive feedback from peers, the teacher, and the folks at home. This is as it should be. The problem is when we discover that some other children are performing at a "higher" level. I suspect your child deserved all the good grades he received.

The Iowa is a nationally normed test and a good check-and-balance to what the school is doing on a daily basis. Determine where your child ranks on the Iowa compared to the rest of the nation and compared to the rest of his peers at your school. Does that match up to where he is within the classroom? Ask the teacher. If your child is having difficulty learning to read, has their been testing done to determine if there is a learning disability? Does your child receive extra support from some special service such as Title 1? Since reading groups are relative to each other, what exactly is meant by the "low" group? Is it a grade level group or below grade level group?

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After teaching in California for nearly ten years, Barbara Callaghan moved to New Hampshire in 1985 and became a principal. After 10 years as a principal, she returned to teaching, her first love and true vocation.


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