Lost at the Parent/Teacher Conference

I had my parent/teacher conference recently and I think it went well, but I’m not 100 percent sure. I was a little lost. Mostly, I was lost when it came time to discuss my son’s progress in reading. He is in the third grade, and as his Mom, all I really want to know is a) can he read, and b) does he understand what he is reading. The short answer to both of these questions is “yes,” but as it turns out, the parent/teacher conference is not the time for short answers. Instead, it’s the time for long, complex answers that hurt my brain and make me regret not learning more about the Common Core standards or whatever.

It’s not that I am unhappy with the education my children are getting–I am confused by it. There are all of these methodologies and constructs and performance assessments with weird acronyms and to be honest the communication hasn’t been all that great. As a result, I can sense a growing chasm between them (educators) and us (overwhelmed parents who have NO IDEA what to make for dinner tonight).

During the conference, my son’s teacher assumed I knew a lot about how she assesses my child’s reading ability, but the truth is, I know very little about that particular thing. She and thousands of teachers across the US use this complicated system called the Fountas and Pinnell Text Level Gradient that places a book into one of 26 categories, each corresponding to a letter in the alphabet that increase in complexity from A to Z. Also, letters close to each other in the alphabet have apparently joined together to form bands. For what it’s worth, I predict LMNOP will be the first one with a hit song.

According to my son’s teacher, he is reading “M” level books, which doesn’t give me much insight into how smart or not smart he is. I guess he is in the “Middle”? Or maybe he is “Marvelous”? Actually, that’s not fair. His teacher did give me a printout explaining all 26 categories in excruciating detail, but my eyes glazed over around “J” and I started thinking about what I was going to serve for dinner again.

All I know is that at home, when he is putting off bedtime, my son reads comic books about farts, butts and boogers. I personally feel he could do better and should be reading real yet age appropriate literature–like maybe James and the Giant Peach or Charlotte’s Web–but apparently comic books are not only OK, they are actually encouraged in school, so I pretty much have no hope for James or Charlotte.

My son’s teacher also assumed I knew all about the various ways reading comprehension is measured today. It’s not enough that a child simply understands what he read, now he must retell what he read, refer back to the text when he is retelling it, and/or infer something about what he read. My son’s teacher told me he could be better at inferring, but I’m telling you, unless the text discusses the finer points of farts, butts or boogers, he just doesn’t care.

Another thing that upsets me about education today is how my kids don’t receive letter grades but numbers on their report cards. Their teachers have told me that 1 means “needs improvement,” 2 means “developing,” 3 means “consistent” and 4 means “exceeds grade level expectations,” but I’m not sure how to react to these numbers. Should I freak out over a “1” the same way my Mom freaked out over an “F”? Is a “4” the same as an “A” and if so, how come he didn’t get any? I wish I could understand the rationale for leaving letter grades behind. I mean, they are practically ingrained in our culture. Plus, numbers intimidate me and remind me of math.

Speaking of math, the way it is taught today could not be any more different than it was when I was in school. In fact, two plus two today does not so much equal four as it equals a brain aneurysm. Seriously, how complicated is the new math? My kids’ school figured out pretty early on that they would need the full support of parents if the new math was going to be anywhere near successful, so they held an informational night where all of these CEOs, lawyers, doctors, and investment bankers sat in the cafeteria to learn how to add all over again. It was amazing. I drank actual Kool-Aid that night and left a full-fledged believer in something called Singapore math. Now all I need to do is locate Singapore on a map and I’ll be all set.