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EDITORIAL: Children can handle the truth about their grades, fitness

The desire to protect children is understandable. But what some are doing takes that instinct to an unhealthy extreme.

The A to F grading system is a childhood staple. It clearly tells teachers and parents how well a student is doing in different subjects. Yes, it can be uncomfortable for a child to tell his parents that he got a D in English. His parents might even take away some of his privileges in favor of increased study time. Having to do extra schoolwork can be a chore. What’s worse is graduating from high school without knowing how to read. Grades provide regular feedback that is essential to helping children obtain the skills they need to do more than work a cash register at McDonald’s.

But that’s not how some people view it. Writing in The College Fix last week, Christian Schneider described his shock when he opened his daughter’s second grade report card. Her Madison, Wisconsin, school district uses the grades “EX,” “M,” “DV” and “E.” He didn’t know what those terms meant either. The school had to provide a key to help parents decipher a second grade report card.

Those letters stand for “Exceeding,” “Meeting,” “Developing” and “Emerging.” To make it more confusing, the school district defined each of those grades in the rosiest possible terms.

“Student begins to show initial understanding of grade-level expectations for the end of the year,” the definition of “emerging” reads. That’s a rosy way to describe a failing student.

It’s not just grades where some adults want to shield students from reality. Earlier this month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed suspending the physical fitness test given to state fifth, seventh and ninth graders. He’s concerned the test, which measures students’ aerobic ability, strength and flexibility, leads to body shaming and bullying. Results show that students have room to improve. Around 20 percent of students are in the “Needs Improvement — Health Risk” category for body composition.

Schools shouldn’t — and don’t — broadcast individual student results. The data is part of a student’s confidential file, which is protected by state and federal law. But letting kids know that their inactivity is putting their health at risk isn’t bullying. It’s alerting them to reality, which gives them time to improve their health.

What produces lasting confidence — and self-esteem — isn’t shielding children from every difficulty. It’s setting a consistent, age-appropriate standard and helping them achieve it, no matter how many times it takes. You can’t do this when bureaucrats and politicians send the message that everyone is a winner, no matter someone’s effort level or results.

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