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The Informed Parent

It’s Report Card Time!

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Nov. 01, 1998

November marks the completion of the first quarter of the school year. Some schools send report cards home to show student progress during the previous three months. Some schools schedule parent conferences to apprise parents of their child's accomplishments. Still other schools formally report progress on a trimester system--that is three times a year instead of four. However the school that your child attends reports to you, understanding what the report card does and does not mean is important.

All of us want our children to succeed. Too often we measure school success only by the grades on a report card. The report card simply reports your child's progress in the classroom program at this particular time. It does not show past strength and performance or future possibility. The report card does not indicate how your child best learns or what his level of interest in school happens to be.

Often parents forget that the report card cannot and does not measure the whole child. We reward a "good" report card and have negative consequences for a "bad" report card. Children and parents alike may measure the child's value as a student by the grades on the report card. This can cause roller coaster emotions of pride and disappointment in both children and parents. This, in turn, interferes with positive parent/child relationships. The following suggestions can be of value in understanding and using the report card simply as part of the process of your child's school career. They may help families put less stress on the report card as the measure of the child's overall abilities both in and out of school.

  1. Remember that C means average. The student is performing at the expected rate and level for a particular subject at that particular time. Unfortunately in many schools and families, a C grade is considered a low grade. Assisting students to understand what a C means can alleviate some of their anxiety. In most instances, C does not mean laziness or lack of effort. It means average, and average is not negative.
  2. Most students show differences in abilities. Some show strength in reading and language arts
  3. while others may be stronger in math or science. Acknowledging these differences with compassion assists children in understanding their own individual preferences and differences. Achieving all A's or B's on the report card is not possible for many students.
  4. Most report cards have a place to show improvement in progress. Sometimes improvement is addressed in a note written by the teacher. This important information shows you that your child has achieved a greater degree of learning than previously. Paying attention to this information and indicating your recognition to your child shows him that you notice growth, not simply an end product.
  5. Ask your child how she would grade herself. You gain insight into her understanding of herself and discover how she sees herself as a student. Asking what and how questions deepen these discussions. How would you grade yourself differently? What do you need to do differently if you want a different grade? How would you go about doing that? Is that possible or are you doing the best you can do now? What kind of help do you need and from whom? Are you satisfied with your report card? What do you like/dislike about it? When asked with a real willingness to know, these questions show your child that you are interested in her as a student far beyond what the report card says.
  6. If you or your child are confused or concerned about a particular grade or comment on the report card, set up a conference with the teacher and include your child. He needs to participate in the discussion so that he hears what led to that particular grade. Children hear information differently from different people. Hearing what the teacher based her grading decision on can be valuable for the student.
  7. Find ways to acknowledge your child. Look for something on the report card to speak about positively. If the grades are not what you expected, acknowledge, for example, his fine attendance or that his teacher indicated his friendliness. Kids need to hear where they are successful. They know where they are not.

Sometimes families reward monetarily for grades. I believe this puts added stress on children and is not the best way to use the report card. Some children may never be able to reach the level for which money is offered no matter how hard they try. Paying for grades does not acknowledge the importance of process. It tends to focus on the evaluation of learning instead of on the love for learning. It can result in conflict among siblings. Verbally acknowledging the report card and positively indicating your appreciation of the child's effort goes a long way in assisting your child to become a successful learner.

Using the report card for its intended purpose--an indication of the child's present progress--lays the foundation for open and positive communication between you and your child. It creates an opportunity for the child to discover more about herself as a student. It calls forth the desire in most children to appreciate the process of learning. Most importantly, using the report card positively can assist the child in learning that he is not his grade. He is a person with talents and abilities that go far beyond a letter on a piece of paper.

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