Mostly A’s Is The New Straight A’s

At my kids’ elementary school, making the Principal’s List is the highest of all academic honors.  So, when Lynden’s invitation to the Principal’s List breakfast came home last week, I was in full proud-dad form.

I expected a cozy gathering – a reasonable assumption for an invite-only event that, I was told, was reserved only for students receiving straight A’s.  The long line of awaiting students and parents at the cafeteria’s entrance was my first sign of something askew.

Lynden, age 9, shunning the camera at his Principal’s List breakfast

“Man, Lynden, there are a bunch of kids here,” I commented in surprise as we took our place in line.

“Yep, there’s always a lot.”  Lynden was matter-of-fact, only half-listening and busy scanning the line for his classroom buddies.

As the line began to slowly move, I probed further, “How many kids in your class make the Principal’s List?”

“Like 5 or 6, I think.”

I smiled but could not resist the urge to do a simple math problem as we waited:

  • 5 kids on the Principal’s List per class,
  • X 4 classes per grade,
  • X 5 grades in the school
  • = nearly 100 kids on the Principal’s List

If there are 20 students in his class, and if Lynden’s class is a representative sample, that means that 25% of all students in the school are earning an invitation – and straight A’s!

These numbers seemed bloated to me – and had me looking for answers.

My first hypothesis: It is too easy to get an A.

I was immediately skeptical – assuming that our school’s teachers must be handing A’s out like Snickers on Halloween.  I know that our school is great, but I’m realistic enough to understand that it is not mini-Harvard.

“Lynden, how do so many kids get straight A’s?”  I asked him point-blank as he sucked down his second chocolate-iced donut.

“Dad, you actually don’t have to get all A’s.  Straight A’s is for the main subjects – everything except music, art and the other specials.  Those other grades don’t count for the Principal’s List.”

Suddenly the bloated numbers made sense – less a function of water-down grading and more of a product of a scale skewed toward a subset of traditional subjects.

I was now armed with my answer, but not pleased with it.  It’s elementary school so I won’t complain about grade erosion.

I will, though, take notice of the shunning to the arts by the Principal’s List.

Why don’t art, music or conduct count?

It strikes me that if the school is going to celebrate good grades, all subjects and marks should count.

Superior grades in art and music should generate the same recognition as A’s in math or science.  Further, grades given for conduct should have as much influence as grades for accurate spelling.

It is wrong that this invite-only breakfast would, by definition, ignore all students who may be gifted artists and musicians but shoddy spellers or mathematicians.

There are two, opposing ways to fix the Principal’s List:

  • Reduce the numbers by restoring the true meaning of straight A’s.  The Principal’s List can become the home of students that aced everything – math, music, art and conduct. Give the donuts to the kids that don’t mail it in during music because they are exhausted from math class.  If student conduct is important, make it count toward this accolade.
  • Expand the Principal’s List invite.  Extend the invite to students getting A’s in all non-core classes and/or in measures of school conduct. In this way, the breakfast line gets longer but is more inclusive of all subjects and student efforts.

As our breakfast ended and parents began to file out of the cafeteria, I tested my solution with Lynden.  “Hey bud, what if the Principal’s List required all A’s – in everything.  Do you know of anyone that got all A’s in all subjects and in every conduct category?”

He thought for a minute, “I think there would be a few kids – like 10 or so, probably.  That would be really hard though.”

“Yep.  But, what if that’s the point.”

Lynden chuckled shyly, nodded and chomped his final donut.

I may not like how the Principal’s List was built, but I was proud of Lynden’s work all the same.

I gave him a hug and told him so as I strolled to my vehicle.

Maybe my definition of straight A’s should change – to be almost all A’s.  After all, just like Lynden’s B in music, I don’t see the updated definition changing anytime soon.


One Comment

  1. Matt Buckner

    Maybe it would also help if they put as much time and emphasis on art, music and PE and stopped calling them “specials.”

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