Report Cards

by Robin Kirkpatrick
January 31, 2005



Report cards went home to Boston’s kindergarteners a few weeks ago.  Many parents were sure to have been pleased with the results: a very official looking affirmation that their five year old was on track for meeting or exceeding somebody’s expectations.  Still others were likely to have had a different reaction, for what could be more worrisome than the news that barely three years out of diapers one of the most precious people in their life had been adjudged deficient in some way? 


Our own little girl is happily settled in a wonderful kindergarten class at Roslindale’s Haley Elementary School.  Her teachers are warm and supportive, and her classmates, bright and engaged.  Avery is excited about the many new friends she’s made this year and about all that she is learning.  Still, the leap into kindergarten was a big one for her.  After navigating our way through the notoriously murky BPS assignment process, we welcomed the news last spring that she and a long-time friend had been assigned to the same school, and to the same teacher.


Hazel and Avery have been among each other’s very best friends since their baby days. They are both bright, kind, vivacious little girls. Happily, dozens of birthday parties, swimming lessons, and playdates later, we’ve also grown close to Hazel’s mom.  While I should know better than to attach too much meaning to something like a report card, I’m ashamed to admit that I was so concerned that Hazel might have been awarded more 4s than our own little girl that I hoped the topic of the new assessments simply wouldn’t come up in conversations with her mother.  Further, I’ll confess that the news that their report cards were pretty comparable came as an immense relief to me. The worry that their teacher might think Hazel smarter than our own daughter left me too anxious to ask Hilary about her honest opinion as to whether it is appropriate to issue report cards to five year olds in the first place.  This, after years of honest conversations about every conceivable topic regarding our kids!


Did we miss the public debate as to whether giving five year olds such an assessment is sound educational policy?  Is it not enough that the culture will inevitably demand that our kids measure themselves against their friends in terms of who is smarter, more athletic, more attractive?  Parents have been asked for their input around at least a few other issues related to educational policy – why not this one? Who is less likely to question the value of such a policy – the proud parents of the kids that were awarded the 3s and 4s – or instead, those who’ve been informed in the most unambiguous of terms- that their kids don’t measure up?  Will the worry and shame of having had your baby be described as not meeting somebody’s expectations compel you to be more involved in the life of her school – or far less so?  Does the news that your child is as exceptionally bright as you’ve always known him to be persuade you that you have more in common with the parents of other kids at his school, or less?  Does the distribution of the kindergarten report card make it more likely that parents engage one another in conversations about issues of common concern: class size, funding shortages, the dearth of supplies - or less? 


It is tough to say whether the report card offered us much in the way of real insight into our daughter’s academic progress.  It seems she has a special knack for identifying upper and lower case letters.  Who knew? We’ll continue to trust Avery’s very experienced and dedicated teacher, Mrs. Hawkes, to help us support our daughter’s academic life.  While we can’t say for sure that we’ve learned anything very substantial about Avery’s academic progress from her report card, it is undeniably certain that the distribution of this particular assessment has had a chilling effect for what might otherwise have been another lively conversation with a friend about the life of our kindergarteners - an effect that could not have been achieved more exquisitely had this been the point all along.