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Teacher to Parent: Subjective grading is subject to opinion

Teacher to Parent: School issues

Reading is the key that opens the doors to limitless education.

I had to make an appointment for my child, and to set the date I asked his teacher when the next test was so I didn’t schedule the appointment for that day. The teacher didn’t seem happy with that. The appointment is necessary, and I did my best to work around the class schedule. What did I do wrong?

I’m inferring, but it looks to me like you made the mistake of thinking that tests are the most important part of your child’s schooling.

It’s commendable to try to avoid your child missing a test, but from a teacher’s standpoint, tests are relatively easy to make up. It’s a lot more difficult, however, to make up the lessons that precede them.

If I give a test on adjectives and a student misses it, I simply arrange a time for him to take the test. He can test while I work. But if I’m teaching about adjectives and a student is absent, now I have to find a way to teach this student from scratch.

It’s frustrating for teachers because I already planned, prepared, and executed a perfectly brilliant lesson (well, brilliant-ish, to coin an adjective) for the benefit of the whole class. To have to reteach it because a student’s braces needed tightening is a vexing distraction from what I really need to be doing, which is planning and preparing the next lesson.

So in the future, if your child needs to be out and you have options, just ask the teacher what would be the best day to miss. Answers may vary, but chances are it will be test day.

I read your advice that “it’s better for young children to be in the care of a parent versus a paid stranger” and “there’s no substitute for a parent.” In your opinion, at what age is this no longer true for a child’s schooling? For example, assuming a child has educated, motivated parents, does your advice remain the same for an elementary-age child? Middle school? High school?

The tipping point is where the paid strangers can do a better job than the loving parent. That point will differ from home to home, and it will depend not just on the parents’ educational ability but their availability as well: some parents can’t devote themselves to the rigors of full-time homeschooling because they have to work. Others, on the other hand, possess the devotion, expertise, and patience to do it K through 12.

In general, however, the tipping point is usually kindergarten or first grade, when kids are learning to read independently. Reading is the key that opens the doors to limitless education. Mess it up, and it could have lifelong consequences. Teachers are given specialized training that most parents don’t possess, so for most parents that’s the point where the premiums of keeping kids at home start to evaporate, barring the full-time dedication of homeschooling.

It’s also the juncture where kids begin to bump into the boundary of their world in terms of personal exploration; they’ve read all your books, rummaged through all the cabinets, are familiar with all the stores and landmarks, made friends with all the neighbors, and they’re ready for the fresh academic and social horizons that schools can offer.

Why don’t teachers give more subjective grading assignments? When everything is just objective answers, right or wrong, it doesn’t allow students to really think and respond critically.

Great point. There are a number of practical reasons. First, grading subjective responses (like essay questions) takes a long time. When teacher planning times are constantly congested with bureaucratic meetings and “administrivia,” there isn’t time to grade them. Another reason is that standardized testing has forced teachers to emphasize objective grading to prepare students for the tests. Despite appearances, student performance on objective standardized tests isn’t really how we assess students, but it’s sure how we assess teachers, and teachers must adapt.

A final reason is that grading subjective assignments is, well, subjective. Low grades for lackluster critical thinking lead to exasperating arguments with students and too many piffling complaints from parents. Put all those factors together and subjective assessments are on the endangered species list of classroom methodologies.

Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992 and is the director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance. To submit a question, order his books, or follow him on social media, please visit

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