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How to Analyze and Correct Your Child's School Records in Four Steps

Use this simple, four-step process to keep your child's school records current, complete, and accurate.

By Deidre Hayden

The importance of reading, organizing, analyzing, and evaluating your child's school records cannot be overemphasized. The information in these records provides the basis upon which crucial decisions will be made concerning your child's education. In this article, a step-by-step process for analyzing and revising/updating your child's school records is described.

Using the Four-Step Record Decoder process and accompanying form, you will become thoroughly familiar with your child as seen through the close up lens of her school records. When you've completed the process, you will know whether the information in your child's file paints an accurate picture of her learning needs and strengths. The first article on school records explains how to obtain your child's records from the school.

When you have obtained your child's school records, often a stack of documents an inch or more thick, what will you do with them? How can you begin to make sense of all this material written about your child? The four basic steps —Organize, Read, Analyze, and Evaluate — are described in detail below: You may also wish to download the Four Step Record Decoder (pdf), which is designed to help you record pertinent information as you organize, read, analyze, and evaluate your child's school records.

Step 1: Organize

1. After obtaining the complete set of records from the school system, separate the documents into two sets:

  • Records that describe your child (such as teacher reports, psychological evaluations, social history, IEPs, etc.)
  • Other documents or correspondence of an administrative nature (for example, the minutes of an eligibility committee meeting, consent forms, etc.). These administrative documents and correspondence help you keep track of your contacts with the school system.

2. Make an extra copy of the records. This way you will have an "original" that remains untouched, and a copy that you can mark, cut, paste, and use in whatever way is most helpful to you.

3. Arrange each set — descriptive reports and other documents — in chronological order.

4. Secure the pages in a folder with a clip or in a loose leaf notebook so that if you drop them you won't have to back up three steps.

5. Number each report and make a chronological list that you can add to as new records are generated. The list might look like this:

Report Date Reporting Person
Educational Reports of Jessica Lee

1. Psychoeducational evaluation

5/3/04 Angelica Connor

2. Teacher's report

5/5/04 Cathy Porterman

3. Social history reports

5/12/04 Patricia Roberts

4. Psychiatric evaluation summary

6/8/04 Dr. Marcia Ortiz

5. IEP

6/14/04 Dru Dunn

6. Psychological evaluation summary

8/23/04 Dr. Ronald McPherson

7. Teacher's report

9/14/04 Dru Dunn

8. Psychologist's memorandum

9/14/04 Barbara Hager

Step 2: Read

1. Read through the entire record to get overall impressions and tones of the school's view of your child.

2. In the margins of your working copy, put a question mark beside the statements or areas of the reports you do not understand or with which you disagree.

Step 3: Analyze

1. Now reread the reports and underline the phrases or sentences you feel best describe your child's strengths, those that describe your child's problems, and those that describe the way she learns. As you underline, write in the margin of the report, opposite the passage you've underlined:

  •   "S" for a description of your child's learning strengths
  •   "P" for a description of learning problems
  •   "LS" for a description of the style or way your child learns.

2. Using the Four-Step Record Decoder or a similar chart you make, list the phrases or sentences about your child's strengths ("S") and problems ("P") by the following developmental categories. Under the last category, "Learning Style," you will list all of the "LS" phrases and sentences.

  • Movement
  • Communications
  • Social relationships
  • Self concept/independence
  • Perception/senses
  • Thinking skills
  • Learning Style

3. After each phrase or sentence describing your child's strengths, problems, or style of learning, put the source of the information, and the date of the document in which the phrase or sentence appears. Often you will find trends beginning to emerge. The same observation, expressed in similar language, may occur in several reports, and/or over a period of time.

4. The last section of the Four-Step Record Analysis form is titled "Recommendations." In this section, list any recommendations made by each evaluator or teacher. Recommendations might include services needed, preferred classroom environment, optimum class size, most desirable type of school setting; or recommendation for further testing, specific teaching materials, or equipment.

Step 4: Evaluate

Using the question mark notations you have made in the margins and your overall sense of the records from your analytical work with them, evaluate them to determine if they are:

  • Accurate. Do the reports and portions of the records correspond with your own feelings, perceptions, observations, and assessments of your child?
  • Complete. Are all the documents required by the school system for the eligibility, Individualized Education Program (IEP), and placement decisions available in the file? These can include a medical report, social history, psychological examination, educational report, and other documents that may be required by your local or state guidelines.
  • Bias-Free. Are the reports free from cultural or racial bias? Do they take into consideration the effect your child's disability might have had upon the outcome of the results of the tests?
  • Non-judgmental. Do the reports reflect a respect for your child and your family? Do they avoid the use of language that judges rather than describes? Examples of judgmental statements include: "She is fickle." "He is incorrigible." Examples of descriptive statements include: "She is inconsistent in stating what she likes and dislikes." "He will not respond to directions to stop disruptive behavior."
  • Current. Are the dates on the records recent enough to give a report of your child's present behavior and functioning? Records generated within the past three years are generally useful for making good decisions. Older ones should be used with caution.
  • Understandable. Is the language used meaningful, clear, and understandable to you? If technical terms (jargon) are used, have they been defined or made understandable to the non specialist? (Example of an unclear statement: "She appears to have a psychological learning disability, calling for treatment involving a moderation of the special focus on interpersonal sensitivity she has received so far." What does that mean?)
  • Consistent. Is there consistency among the descriptions of your child given by each evaluator or teacher? Or do you find contradictions and differences of opinion? Considering the record as a whole, does it make sense and lead logically to the recommendations that are made?

Reprinted with permission from Winifred Anderson, Stephen Chitwood, Deidre Hayden. All rights reserved.

Comments from readers

" I have found this website very helpful. "
"My child is 7 yrs old and after 1 meeting for behavioral reasons with the principal, my husband and I which occurred last school term and we were told that they would arrange for him to have mentoring with one of the teachers there and counseling withe the shcool psychologist. None of this took place in spite of me bugging them about it and now this school term he is facing a SARB. They said there will be a Police officer, a CPS worker and other district officials on the panel. This will be in my child's record for the rest of his school life and I'm worried. What should I do?"