Report Cards—Evaluation or Reward
Through conversations with parents, teachers, and students, I have come to realize that there is some misunderstanding about what we call “marks” or “grades.” This is most evident when a parent or student gets upset over a poor grade on a report card, or when a teacher hesitates to give a poor grade because the student is “trying so hard”. The confusion has its roots in the fact that there are two conflicting philosophies or value systems about evaluation. One approach is grounded in humanism, and the other approach is Biblically based. To the extent that we have been influenced by the prevailing humanistic thinking, we will remain confused and experience conflict when it comes time for report cards.
In the humanistic way of thinking, man is at the center of all things. There are no fixed values, no right, and no wrong. Everything is a matter of opinion, and one man’s opinion is as good as another’s. In this philosophy, no one has the right to tell someone else what is good or bad, right or wrong, true or false.
Christians slide into this way of thinking when they take Jesus’ command to “Judge not lest ye be judged”(Matt. 7:1) in isolation and to an extreme. When we apply this statement universally and uncritically, we end up in the humanist position of not being able to judge right from wrong, etc. This, however, is not what Jesus meant. What He said was that we should be careful about how we judge, for we will be judged in the same manner.
If we judge on the basis of outward appearance or rumor, we can expect to be judged by other people on that same basis. Jesus, in John 7:24, says that we are not to judge on the basis of outward appearance but with righteous judgment. Paul also makes it clear that this is the case when in 1Corinthians (5:12, 6:5) he tells the believers that they have no business judging outsiders, but that they should judge one another and remove a sinner from their midst. He reproves them for going to court and wonders why they do not have the wisdom to make their own judgments.
When we bring this down to the practicalities of daily living, we can see how important it is to distinguish righteous judgment from unrighteous. Imagine going to a Christian doctor for a diagnosis only to be told, “Well, it’s really not my place to pass judgment….” Or, how would we feel to learn that our friendly, Christian police officer wasn’t arresting people because he didn’t want to judge? Extreme examples like these are useful in developing clear thinking because they show us the fallacies in our reasoning when we take a position to its logical conclusion.
Here, then, is what I think that the Bible teaches when we put together what Jesus and Paul taught on the subject (i.e. Matt. 5, 7; Romans 14; 1Cor. 5, 6). First, we are to be careful how we judge and only use a standard that we are prepared to have used on ourselves. Second, we are not to judge on the basis of outward appearance or rumor but rather on the basis of careful investigation. Third, we are to judge with righteous judgment on the basis of Biblical standards and Godly wisdom.
What this means for report cards is this. Teachers are given the responsibility to evaluate (judge) the children in their care. This evaluation should be based on a variety of observations and assessments over a significant period of time. Teachers use essays, reports, group projects, tests, quizzes, journals, and observation (to name a few) to evaluate progress over a nine week period. The report card is a summary of the teacher’s best judgment of a student’s achievement, effort, and character over that time period.
It is important then, to distinguish between achievement, effort, and character. The letter grades or percentages are not ‘given’ as a reward for effort. They are meant to be the teacher’s evaluation of a child’s school work. An “A” represents excellent achievement for work at a particular grade level. Students who try hard are acknowledged through effort marks. Christian character is reflected in the marks for attitude and behavior.
While teachers don’t like giving a poor mark, it is their obligation to accurately assess and accurately report the child’s accomplishments. While effort is important and very often makes the difference between a good grade and a poor one, it is nevertheless true that some students will never be able to achieve an “A” in math or an “A” in phys. ed. And that is fine! It is no sin to do poorly at something as long as one has demonstrated faithfulness in attempting it!
Each parent and student must reflect on the effort and character being displayed. If these are acceptable to God, that is the most important thing. However, if the grades are very poor despite excellent effort, then the program should be modified to fit the abilities of the student. If the attitude and effort are lacking, then that should be addressed. The thing we don’t want to do is to be deceived into thinking that good effort is the same as high achievement.