School – such as it was – is out for the summer and your child has got an end-of-year report on their progress during the last year.
Did you understand it? Many parents tell me that they can’t understand what the report means and complain that it doesn’t give them information they can use.
The problem with report cards
I have written thousands of school reports during my teaching career and I am not proud of any of them.
Why? Because I used certain phrases and wording to hide or obscure the truth. Rereading some of the reports I wrote I realize that most of them were gibberish and had no real meaning or message to communicate.
When I gave grade levels I was not sure what they meant. Was I giving an A for effort or for result? I know that I was rarely allowed to give kids low grades – it would reflect badly on the school! So I didn’t. I lied and said the kids were doing well, but….
It is always the ‘but’ that you should take notice of.
I apologize for all the obfuscation, lack of communication, and perhaps downright lies that I have written in report cards over the years.
But I am sure that I am not the only teacher to have done this.
So how do you make sense of your child’s report card? How do you know when you are not being told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Here are six things you need to remember as you read your child’s report card.
- Be aware that writing report cards this year is a very hit and miss affair. Teachers and pupils may not have met in person and work submitted on line may not reflect the work your child has done or what he has learned. The teacher should be upfront about this and tell you what her comments are based on. If you don’t get this information be very wary of what the report card says about your child.
- If you get an anecdotal report card- one that consists of sentences about your child and his work rather than grade levels – never read the first sentence! The first sentence is always a generality about your child – and no teacher wants to upset a parent so this introductory sentence usually states something positive about your child’s school work. More often than not it has no relation to the truth.
3. The second sentence is the important one. It usually starts with ‘But’. Here is where the teacher starts to hint at problems your child might be experiencing. You need to pay close attention to what is actually being said and follow up with the teacher if you are not sure what he or she actually means.
4. Then look out for ‘teacher talk’. Teachers use teacher talk either as a code for other teachers or as a way to disguise what is actually going on.
‘Teacher talk’ includes phrases such as –
‘Johnny is finding the work somewhat challenging’ (Translation – he can’t do any of it!)
‘Johnny has worked hard’ (Translation – but not got anywhere)
‘I am sure that Johnny will continue to improve’ (Translation – I couldn’t do anything with him but maybe the next teacher can)
You might find many more ‘teacher talk’ phrases that you don’t understand. Send them to me and I will translate for you.
5. What about Grades? Parents like Grades. They seem easy to understand – but are they?
If children get ‘A’s parents are happy. But what about ‘B’s or even ‘C’s? How do you feel about those grades? Most parents tell me they would worry if their child got those grades. But they shouldn’t.
A ‘C’ means that your child has done averagely well – nothing wrong with that. And a ‘B’ means that your child has produced above average work.
When parents ask me what grades mean and how they can compare grades between one class and the next, or even between one school and the next, I have no answer.
Individual teachers decide what grades mean. Your child might get an ‘A’ from one and a ‘C’ from another teacher – for the same work.
Here is how to react to your child’s grades.
Be thankful for A’s and B’s.
If your child gets a ‘C’ ask your child how you can help. You might also ask the school what extra support your child needs and what they can offer.
If your child gets less than a ‘C’ there is a problem. Teachers hate to fail kids because it leads to extra work for them. More paperwork and more remedial teaching.
So they don’t. They don’t give failing grades. And you never get to know that your child is in trouble.
So, take grades with a pinch of salt – ask your child if he or she deserves the ones they have been given – you may learn a lot about your child’s true progress by doing that.
And finally –
- Remember that report cards are like Mexican Traffic lights.
(My Mexican friend gave me this advice so I have no problem repeating it. But I do worry about driving in Mexico now!)
Use your child’s report card not as something set in stone, not as the ultimate truth about your child’s progress in school but as some vague indicator about what you should do to help you child. Your child’s report card is a rough guide to how well your child is progressing. It is merely advisory – giving you a heads up about how you should be involved in your child’s education.
Mexican traffic lights – you can ignore them; you can ignore what they are trying to tell you – but you have to be prepared to take the consequences.
Are you wondering what your child’s report card really means? You might want to take advantage of my offer of a free twenty-minute call where we discuss your concerns and discover your child’s path to success. Contact me to set up a time to chat.