Daisy, who is in 2nd grade, got her report card last week. After Hank drove her home from school, Daisy stayed in the car, staring sullenly at the card.
"So, she's upset about her report card?" I asked Hank.
"Is it bad? Did she get bad marks?"
"What do you think?"
"I think her report card is probably pretty good, like usual."
"Exactly!" Hank said exasperatedly.
I went back out to the garage to see if I could coax my tiny self-flagellating child off the ledge. She wordlessly refused, so I decided to let her be for a while. She eventually came in, plopping down dejectedly on the couch. I sat down cautiously next to her.
"Mom says you're upset about your report card. Is that right?"
"Can I see it?"
She shrugged and told me where it was. I glanced through it and saw good scores across the board. All the necessary boxes were checked and all the scores seemed to be solidly above average.
"Daisy, this looks like a GREAT report card. Congrats! What's wrong with it?"
She pointed to the last page which was entitled "Things to work on". It listed penmanship, and double-checking her work, and a couple of other reasonable items.
"So, you don't like that your teacher said that you have some things to work on?"
Daisy sniffed, paused, and then burst into tears. "Noooooooooooo!" she cried, "I don't!"
"That doesn't mean that you're a bad student. If there was nothing left to work on, you'd be all done with 2nd grade, and it's only February! Everybody should have some items in the things to work on section in February."
"Well," she moaned, "That's not the only bad thing. Look here.....waaaaaah!" and she pointed to the page of test scores.
I reread that page. There were a variety of sections (for spelling, math, etc) listing Daisy's scores and the average score for the class. For almost every test, Daisy's score was above the class average score.
"What's wrong with these scores?" I asked, confused.
"Look at this one!" she said pointing to an '11' she had received. "And look how high the class scored!" she cried, pointing to the '8.8723581382" average class score.
"So? The average kid in your class scored 8 or 9 on that test. You got 11 right. That's great. Are you mad that you didn't get 12?"
"No! I'm mad that I didn't get 88723581382!"
"Oh, baby! The average score wasn't 88723581382! It was 8 POINT 8723581382. I know you guys haven't studied decimals yet, but that's just a complicated way of writing down a number that's between 8 and 9."
She stared at me dumbfounded. "What about this one?" she asked disbelievingly, pointing at an average class score of 10.239275.
"That's just a number between 10 and 11. It's 10 plus a little more. You scored 13 on that test, so you beat the average there too."
She pulled the report card back in front of her face and stared at it fiercely. I went through each test score with her, showing how her score compared favorably to the class average in almost every case (and naturally I spanked her for the one where it didn't).
By the end of the conversation, she was beginning to come around. It took a while to recover from her deep sadness, so I can only hope that this is the last time that decimals cause her such tears.