by Neil Anderson, Head of School
Grades can be tricky. It doesn’t matter if our child is five or fifteen, we want them to do well. We want them to do better than well. What follows is an attempt to explain a bit of the philosophy behind grading at TCS. Hopefully this will help us not make too much or too little out of our students’ report cards.
Let’s zoom out before we zoom in. There is no biblical precedent for what your first grader needs to know before entering the second grade. I could not comfortably say that our conviction that your second grader should be reading about 90 words per minute is one that God is too concerned with. Grade levels are man-made and so are all the objectives that come along with them. Before we take a report card too seriously, for better or worse, we must keep in perspective that it is God who develops our children. His timeline is usually not the same as ours.
The curriculum is designed to bring students along with a certain amount of expected progress. Sometimes it works out like we planned it, sometimes it doesn’t. Each student is developing academically through a combination of classroom cultivation, home cultivation, and Holy Spirit cultivation. To speak metaphorically, teacher and co-teacher can plant seeds, water, and tend to growth, but there will always be core growth that is contingent upon God’s sovereign cultivation.
So if your child is advanced, rejoice, but do so in humility because no matter how excellent your home school sessions are, it is God who does the growing. If your child is struggling, take a deep breath and relax. Be faithful with your part and know that God’s timing is more important than our professional assessments of where your child “should” be at a given age. We are hopeful that TCS families will keep the big picture in view as we walk our children through their education.
Zooming in closer, the standards we have set are more or less on par with the norms that have been set by schools aiming to hold students accountable to their full potential. The bar is raised a little higher than normal at TCS. This is due to the rigorous vision of classical education and the focused educational attention each student receives within the collaborative-style. We use the E-G-N grading system in the lower grammar school in order to trigger a different evaluation standard during the first years of education. We use a standard ABCF scale for upper grammar and lower logic, eliminating plus and minus nuances until upper logic and rhetoric school.
The pre-grammar and grammar years are developmental and the learning curve is steep. We feel it is most appropriate to provide three simple categories for assessing each student’s progress in early grammar (Pre-K – 2nd). (E) Excellent; the student is achieving near perfection on all assignments and complete mastery of grade-level objectives. (G) Good; the student is exhibiting a normal understanding of grade-level material. (N) Needs Improvement; the student is struggling to grasp grade-level objects.
Beginning in 3rd grade and beyond, we use an ABCF scale. As students approach upper school when grades will become more nuanced, we still desire for their objective assessment to be slightly general. In relation to a given subject, we want you and your child to know if they are (A) excelling at mastery of a subject, (B) achieving average mastery of a subject, (C) not achieving mastery of a subject but close, or (F) not close to achieving mastery of a subject .
Part of the reason we assign these values is because we want you to think differently about grades in the early years of education. There is no real point in giving your 2nd or 5th grader an 86 because that value cannot mean very much at such an age. It is fun for a student to get a “100” on an assignment. We want this for them. But in the early years, we don’t want them necessarily to feel differently about a 100 versus a 96. After all, we are working towards the value of knowledge as it relates to understanding as it relates wisdom. A 100 on an assignment can have everything or nothing to do with the ultimate goal of wisdom. We do provide these numbers beginning in 7th grade so that students can be more acutely aware of their academic grade. But we would still want to promote a culture of student who have an appetite for learning, not just making the grade.
Also, we want avoid the mentality that our students “just aren’t” something academically or behaviorally. Not only is it too early to determine what our students will be good at down the road, we want to avoid them resolving to pursue math over literature or history over science. The classical vision is that they would have equal value for all subjects even if they end up being more gifted for one.
In summary, teacher and co-teacher should work together to track and assess the progress of a student. We should be mindful of objective grade level norms, and intentional in our attempts to pursue excellence in relation to these. We should also be reverent. Education is a lifelong calling. It is a context for worship, not an annual race to an imaginary finish line.