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Moms Talk Q&A: How Important Are Grades in Your Home?

Do you demand perfect grades from your child or are grades less important than other things?

Whether we're in the classroom or in the workplace, we're constantly rated and ranked based on our performance. But what do these ratings really mean? And for families, how important are grades? Do you demand perfect grades from your child or are grades less important than other things? Our Moms Council shares their personal stories below, and I encourage you to ask, answer and share in the comments box below.

I grew up in an area, and maybe even a time, where academic success just wasn’t a huge focus. Sure, we were all pushed to pass our classes and you couldn’t play sports without a C average, but there was no real emphasis. I think this was especially true for girls. You were expected to pass but not pushed to excel.

I can count on my fingers the kids that went to college right out of high school, and could probably use just one hand to count those that finished within five years or at all. This was not the life I wanted to live or the atmosphere I wanted to raise children in and I knew college and academic success was my only ticket out. 

As parents, my husband and I decided the effort and not the letter grade was what was most important—to a point. I don’t demand As on the grade card but I do demand As in effort. Incidentally, that usually results in As on the grade card as well. Life was good. Then high school hit.

We are currently struggling with a high school student who doesn’t seem to care. He can do to the work, but often just doesn’t. The effort is gone, the grades aren’t there, and any kind of passion or drive for success is non-existent.

Currently we’re at the yelling, grounding, conferencing with the teacher and principal stage. The grades come up, we take a breath, and they start slipping down again. I picture the next three and a half years of my life and I could weep. I don’t know how to relate to this kid who is content with where things stand.

Of course, I blame myself. That’s what moms do. It’s always the mother, right? Did I push too hard too long? Have all those years of “Everybody gets a trophy” really taught my kid that he doesn’t have to try?

I’m not sure how this is going to turn out, but I’m sure we will learn something. I just hope we all survive.

This is a question I’ve actually pondered recently while reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua for my book club. Chua has been praised and, more often than not, criticized for how she is raising her daughters. She expects nothing but perfection from them. For those unfamiliar with the book, Chua describes raising her daughters the “Chinese” way instead of a more “Western” style. To briefly sum it up, Chua frowns upon anything less than an A, demands strict practice schedules when it comes to piano and violin (two to three hours a day is the norm), and does not allow sleepovers, school plays or other distractions.

I still believe in the mantra “just do your best,” and I think so far it has worked well for my child. However, he’s in grade school and seems to be doing fine. On a rare occasion when he hasn’t done well, we’ve reviewed what happened and discussed the importance of more focus, double-checking and other ways to improve. I’m fairly confident that as he gets older and school becomes more challenging, there will be times that I need to ask for more and will expect more than “just your best,” but for now I haven’t had to draw the line and demand more effort.

And because he is still in grade school, I don’t want him to be too obsessed about grades. I think it’s important for children to have an array of experiences that extend beyond the classroom. While learning and doing your best in the classroom is important, so are activities such as seeing a play, playing sports, enjoying music, reading just for the fun of it, writing journal entries, visiting friends and relatives, and, quite simply, being a kid.

My mother has a saying: "Children will rise or sink to their parents' expectations."

She never went to college, but she raised three children who all graduated from college—two with PhDs and one with a perfect grade point average. My mom is smart and wise and had high expectations for us. She expected As. If any of us started getting Bs, she made somewhat of a big deal about it. She talked to our dad, our teachers and us about it.  We were made to work harder until the next report card came back with better marks.

That meant playtime with friends, TV, or going out on the weekend was curtailed until we did better in school. Such discipline began early in life and lasted (even through college). When I came home for Christmas, if I didn't have good grades in hand, there would be consequences. I would argue, "I am grown up now, so don't treat me like a child," but she would rightly reply that I'm not an adult until I make responsible decisions.

Mom also said, "Education is your freedom." This is especially true for girls. She never wanted us to feel stuck in a life "situation"; a relationship, job or bad neighborhood. She wanted us to be able to support our children and ourselves. My mom was big on personal accountability and responsibility. Good grades are important. My children are too young for grades A through D, but the time is soon approaching. I will raise them like my mom raised me: to understand that education is your ticket to better places, to know that education is your freedom. Thanks, mom. I love you.

When I was younger, grades were not a huge factor in our success at school. It was the effort we put into our work that mattered most. My sister and I came home with basically the same grades: a couple As, a few Bs, couple more Cs and an occasional D or two. We were not punished for the Cs or Ds if our parents thought we were putting in as much effort as we could.

It was always a little weird talking to my friends who were in trouble because they did not make As on their report card. As a child, I thought it was pretty cool of my parents to see it in their way. Looking back, I see the good in both ways. I should let everyone know that our college education was taken care of by my grandfather and neither my sister nor I had to worry about paying for college. Because of that, I am sure that is why education was much more relaxed in our family than in others. As a parent, I will be more focused on my girls and their grades. We no longer have that trust fund that we can rely on. My husband and I sit down every night with both girls and read to them and, for my older one, we do her homework together. Our hopes as parents are that our girls want to do the best that they can and strive to do better when they fall short.

Grades matter. Kids who get good grades tend to go to good colleges and tend to do better in life. However, the relationship between good grades and success in life is imperfect. In our results-driven society, it’s easy to forget that no single measurement is comprehensive.

In our house we consider, but do not set, letter grade goals. However, we do ask that our children strive for excellence in their performance and ask them to set academic goals that reflect subject mastery and good character. Report cards are considered within the framework of our children’s goals. When report cards are received, we ask our children to comment on their efforts in relationship to their goals. Their grades provide something of a benchmark for the accuracy of our reflective discussions. If a child reported that he felt he mastered the material but his grade was a D, then there is a discrepancy that needs to be explored. Bringing the teacher into the discussion may provide more information so the root issue can be determined and addressed.

Most of the time our kids' reflections are fairly accurate. We have found consistently placing the focus on our children’s behavior and goals rather than a desired letter grade has the benefit of increasing their motivation to do well, which in turn positively affects their grades.

BarbieJo March 11, 2011 at 05:33 AM
I find that I do demand too much from my child. I was a straight A student. I got the special card tickets, I excelled in school yet never bought homework home. This confused my Mom, but she did not care as long as I got good grades. Now as a parent, I find today's schools confusing. My son is 10. His grades are not given in the universal terms of A's or B's, but satisfactory or not. What does that mean? To me Satisfactory is A, but to him is that a C? I think part of the problem that we find with the transition to Jr And Sr High is that fact that we have tired as a society to candy coat everything. I think that we need to go back to the orignal grading system so that parents who are ok with a C average verses those like me who want an A average, are able to groom the leaders of tomorrow from the beginning to excel to our expectations. I really feel that I have no idea where my son is really performing based on the current standing for grades. Based on this, I can not really influence him. Or maybe this is the school systems intention? Barb

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