Some Advice on Grades, Comments, and Conferences

Math teacher Jiazhen Zhang at the board

We completed the first quarter on October 19—time sure does fly by in the fall. Marin Academy is set up in quarters in order to provide more feedback to our students; first quarter grades and comments, for example, are strong indicators of how a student has done in the first nine weeks of classes. They can predict what the first semester grades will be—which are the grades recorded on transcripts—but it’s not set in stone.

First quarter grades and comments were sent out on Tuesday. This is the first time that we have had grades available online for all students and parents, and we’re excited that everyone can take a look as soon as the grades are ready—and as soon as they are ready—as opposed to waiting for the mail to be delivered.

Freshmen working on word problems in Advanced Algebra

In my experience, first quarter grades are a great conversation starter in families. I generally recommend that students look at the grades first, collect their thoughts, and then share them with their parents.

One of the best ways to encourage a student to be the architect of his or her own education is to have a discussion about strengths, opportunities for growth, and what the path towards growth looks like. Students may have questions about their performance or how they were evaluated, and conversations with teachers should be part of that plan.

Students showing their work to the class

My best advice for parents and students is to pay close attention to comments. As indicators of student performance, they are far more important than grades. Teachers, advisors, and deans put a lot of time in writing and editing comments, which we hope serve as another place to begin discussion. Reviewing comments provides another opportunity to develop skills of independence, introspection and reflection, including learning how and when to ask for help, and how to celebrate successes.

A fine example of our eco-friendly Aus Pens in action!

MA has academic advisors to, among other things, help students and parents navigate the evaluation process. Next week, on November 8, we will have parent/student conferences with advisors. Notice the inclusion of “students”: unlike many schools, MA involves students in the conversation. This shift happened right before I came to MA. From the point of view of teachers and advisors, the inclusion of students leads to a team effort in order to improve students’ experiences at MA. In the past, advisors strategized only with the parents about the students and then hoped the students got the message. The current process is more transparent, and more importantly, it shows the students that we are all working together to support them.

I asked three of our deans for advice about the upcoming conferences.

Scott Young, Nicole Stanton, and Lynne Hansen

Academic Dean Scott Young: “My advice to parents is to plan for the conference with their child and to let their child take the lead in the meeting. This is a great opportunity for students to show and demonstrate self advocacy.”

Dean of Students Lynne Hansen: “Mine is similar. Come to the conference ready to listen. It is a great opportunity to hear from your children how much they value their education.”

Dean of Faculty Nicole Stanton: “Remember that this conference isn’t just about your child’s grades and comments, but also about your child’s overall experience at MA: the co-curricular activities, the opportunities for leadership and personal growth, and the chance to think broadly about what this student can do to make the most of his or her four years here.”

These conferences are a great setting: students, parents, and the school working together to support independent growth. It’s the perfect school triangle.

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About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
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