News and Tribune

August 12, 2013

CUMMINS: Show me your report card

Local columnist

Judge not that ye be not judged, but we do. Although God judges us using the simple pass-fail system, take some time and give yourself a grade using the more familiar A-to-F method. Grade yourself on a happiness index; A for bliss and F for everything from bankruptcy to pulling your hair out. Take heart, if you’re living at a D- level, do what you did in school by studying harder or conning the teacher as I did. Terry is slow, but he’s a good little boy so I’ll up his grade a letter or two. 

Back in the old days, parents first looked at the two grades, indicating effort and conduct at the top of a report card. Those two qualities are about the only thing students or anyone can control. Academic and other abilities are rationed, as is a bucket half full. Attending school is important, because education lightens our load as we climb steep roads. But showing up does not mean showing off, as many students and politicians do. I did, but eventually learned that copying stuff from the board and dusting the erasers would pass you. Showing up, behaving and keeping the mouth shut opens the door an inch or two.

 After spending 52 years in a schoolhouse as a student, teacher and administrator, I began my education. In schools, I learned that teachers gave grades or you earned a grade, which is it?  When grades come out, they often cause inner-outer turmoil. Some teachers also give gold stars for sitting still while she’s corralling class clowns.  

When grades go out, principals hold conferences. Parents bring their concerns and the teachers bring indecipherable grade books. If he has it, the principal brings calm. Usually, the teacher is defensive, the parent offensive, and the principal is the umpire calling the shots, safe or out. No, he doesn’t — he mediates diplomatically. The level-headed principal heads off stand-offs by encouraging the teacher to give Johnny extra attention, and the parent to lovingly spur her son to turn papers in. Working together we can overcome, I say. Oh, the torment I’ve seen grades do.

One Latin teacher gave all A’s to make her students feel good and they did. For extra credit, a science teacher told a failing student to bring some tree leaves to class, but he forgot. A government teacher assigned a boring government book to a senior to read so he could graduate. Two hours later, the student said he had read it.  Most all A students usually get a B in gym class, whereupon the school board suggests that the teacher see if Brains can run around the track once.

Who fails — students, schools, society or governments?

Why not have the government test its citizens, or at least, its schools — A to F? Indiana does. Teachers once taught children, but now must teach answers to tests, tests, tests. If life is a test to determine success or failure, schools must be the same. Indiana’s expert educators sit in an office and give grades, based on what? Good schools receive A and blue ribbons; bad schools receive F and state takeover. The difference between success and failure in anything is often the width of a hair, but accepting mediocrity is not the Indiana or American way. You and the schools should be held accountable to your state. You can pass this test by having your children pass their tests, or you can donate money to officials to help them raise standards. 

When the state of Indiana decided to grade its schools, they didn’t realize the impact money and politics had. When an elite Indiana charter school that had donated large sums of money to state politicians, received a C, money and unemployment hit the fan. The State-Head teacher sent alarming emails out to his competent staff urging them to think. They did, and it only took two key strokes on the state computer to change C to A. Is this the way the system works? Yes, but educating children and graduating students should be above politics. 

One of my major tests in education involved the fitness of basketball coaches. Games are either A or F; building character, a C-. A ball game is more than an educational contest; it’s like a live-or-die SAT test. That’s why we keep score. Don’t you see that Indiana is desperately trying to win the big game in algebra, etc. and is also resolved to attack integrity, too.  


— Contact Terry Cummins at