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Understanding report cards

Report card time again? These tips will help you figure out what to do about grades before and after that fateful slip of paper comes home.

By GreatSchools Staff

When report card day rolls around, some kids proudly hand their grades over to Mom and Dad, while others stuff them at the bottom of a backpack, praying their parents won't remember to look. Like exams, report cards can be an intimidating part of the school year for both students and parents.

Here are 10 tips to help make sure your child is making the grade:

1. Take report cards seriously.  While most teachers concede that report cards don't tell the whole story about a student's abilities, work habits and intelligence, parents should view the report as a critical piece of information about their child's academic progress. Whether pleased or disappointed by it, parents should use the report card as a point of discussion with their child and, if necessary, his teacher.

2. Praise a good report card.  If your child brings home a good report card, be sure to let her know that you're proud of her accomplishments. And don't forget to put it in a prominent spot on the refrigerator!

3. Talk about a bad report card.  Failure is a scary thing for any child. If your student doesn't do as well as expected on her report card, talk openly about it and reassure her that bad grades do not mean she is a failure. There could be many reasons for her performance that have nothing at all to do with ability or intelligence. Find out if she understands the work that is expected of her and if the teacher has talked to her about how to do better. You may also want to schedule a time for both you and your child to meet with her teacher to discuss a strategy for improvement.

4. Don't assume A's reflect a student's best efforts.  Just because your child received all A's doesn't mean that he is performing up to his potential. If he is acing all of his exams and always seems to finish his homework in a snap, it may be that his classes are not challenging enough. Talk to him and the teacher about the possibility of moving into more advanced classes.

5. Look at your child's work.  Report cards come out only a few times a year, but students do work in the classroom or at home every day. Parents should always look at their children's projects and exams, and pay special attention to the grades and comments that go along with them.

6. Know your child's classes.  If your high school student is planning to go to college, the classes she takes and the grades she receives are critical. Make sure that her schedule meets the requirements for the state university system and that she is taking as many challenging classes as appropriate.

7. Set aside time for homework.  Poor report cards, particularly in the higher grades, can be as much a reflection of insufficient effort as a lack of knowledge or skill. Even an algebra whiz can receive a bad math grade if he has failed to do the required class work. Parents should be adamant about setting aside time on evenings and weekends for schoolwork and should check to make sure that the work is getting done. Find out if your child's teacher has a system, such as a daily voicemail or Internet posting, to help parents verify homework assignments.

8. Encourage good work habits.  It's never too early to learn good work and study habits. Read to your child regularly even before she starts school and always make learning a part of family fun.

9. Give incentives.  Like adults, children and teenagers are motivated by incentives. A trip to the movies, a small gift or a special dinner with Mom and Dad can be a nice reward for a good report card. Be careful, however, that the incentive does not appear to be a bribe or an end in itself. Children should ultimately strive for good grades out of a genuine interest in learning, personal pride and the understanding that success in school lays the groundwork for success later on in life.

10. Be involved in school.  Generally speaking, students who excel have parents who are actively involved in their education and in their school. Show interest in what your child is learning by helping out with homework or volunteering in the classroom. If your child sees you involved at school, and attending school board and PTA meetings, he'll know that you think school is important.

Not a one-size-fits-all format

Your child will usually receive a report card every six to 10 weeks. But report cards can vary widely from district to district — and even from school to school and teacher to teacher - in terms of what they measure and how they convey information about academic performance.

Take the grading scale, for instance. Some teachers and schools are "tough graders," giving A's only when student performance is truly outstanding. Other teachers and schools assign A's and B's liberally. Therefore, students may attain different grade point averages in different classrooms and at different schools even if the quality of their schoolwork is about the same.

Report cards can also reflect the particular educational values of different teachers, schools and districts. Some schools and teachers emphasize the basics. For example, a child's grade in language arts or English may primarily reflect her command of grammar and writing mechanics. Other schools emphasize creative expression, and may give higher grades to students who write with flair and strongly voiced opinions, while being more lenient on the mechanics.

While most public middle schools and high schools assign letter grades of A to F to student course work, many elementary schools do not. Often students in elementary school receive checks or minuses, or grades such as S for "satisfactory" and NW for "needs work." Other schools assign no grades at all, but rather have teachers write a narrative, or detailed comments, about each student. Many parents find these narratives particularly helpful, as they not only assess a student's progress but also explain how the teacher feels strengths and weaknesses may best be addressed.

In high school, grades become extremely important, especially if your student is planning to attend college. Colleges look closely at an applicant's grades, especially in rigorous academic subjects such as advanced algebra and "honors" English. At highly selective colleges, your student will probably need close to an A average to gain admittance, while at less selective institutions a B average or less may suffice.

Comments from readers

"i got a N on my report card what does that mean???? "
"My child received a 'No Mark' on summer school progress report. I am not really clear on what this means. My child has never received such a mark. I don't know whether to perceive it as a good or bad thing. Can you give me some insight on what a 'No Mark' means."
"What does Banner roll mean ? Is it the same as honor roll?"
"I really enjoyed reading this article, it helps parents remember that there's alot more than just letters and numbers when looking at report cards. We must always praise kids for their hard work and effort and encourage them to better in the areas needed. "
"This is very helpful. I plan to distribute this at my church as the Director of our Grade Recognition Program."
" My childs school has gone to the number scale for report cards as well(1-4), and by using the chart that exsplains what the numbers meen I get that ok, but what I don't understand is the numbers that there using to grade the school work. I'd much rather see a's, b's or c's than 1,2,3's. What do they meen? "
"I enjoyed reading this article, especially catching my attention the part in which you mention that some teachers are tough graders. My daughters have been in gifted since Kindergarten and began an international language pogram (the younger one in French in 1st grade and the older one in 3rd grade in Spanish). I have never seen teachers being so hard on students when it comes to the grades than the French teachers. They think that a C is average and that a 2 in conduct only teaches the child to know that he can do better. I loved them and have learned much of the culture and even the language through the years, but they can't understand that in America private education and universities go by the letter and if the French teachers continue to think that a C is good because it teaches the child to challenge themselves and prove themselves they can do better, then let them go and explain that when our children apply to quality colleges and universities where everybody and every! thing is a number and a letter. Please, do something about it."
"My daugther(2nd Grader) got a D on her spelling which we couldn't believe because all her examination were almost perfect and she even voted as student of the month. All her subject were A except for spelling we're not dissappointed on her though but on how her teacher grades their student that's worries us. "
"Thank You this information it is very very helpful. I have a student mentioned in both catagories, one receives A's and the other F's F's after F's and she just began 5th grade however the homework she receives seems so much more challenging then the 6th grader with A's and this worries me. I didn't want my A student to be in a non challenging class but would I be expecting bad grades in order to feel she is being challenged. The 5th grader is receiving so many F's I don't even want to bring her to school anymore so I can imagin what she is feeling. I spoke with the teacher and nothing really changed It feels like the train continues to take off with out stopping for any passengers.This is the begin. of the year and so far 25% of the school year is wasted for the 5th grader and she really has no more room to mess up. My 5th grader has alway struggled in school but maintained now she is taking a dive so putting her back isn't an option for me. I also asked the teacher if the ! school had any programs of support he said no, I wasn't sure why the teacher didn't take the extra time to contact me after he seen 25% of her grade go down hill but I panic like any adult would. I'm not sure if sending her to another teacher would put her further back because it might be too much of a change again for her."
" My kids report card reads 1-4 which I think A-F is much better. A 3 and a 4 is such a big difference between a A and B that you have a hard time explaining that to your kid that a 3 is not all that great in most circumstances. Most the time it just means a pass. My son doesntroggnfishing realize that and thinks that as long as he gets a 3 he has done great. Miss the old days!"
"I think Colleges should not just consider a student's GPA for admittance, but also the type of classes they attended such as whether it was a regular class or an honor class since teachers expect more from students in the honor and advance classes than the ones in the regular classes. "
"I am a single parent raising 3 children, one in 7th one in 6th and one in head start. my children are honor roll students, mainly because I use reverse psycology, dad doesnt understand ,help me to understand the process we need to perform. if the child thinks he is helping the parent understand his school work, he willpay closer attention in class to ensure that he teaches dad the right way to do something.after discussing this technique with their teachers, they too agree. it is a self esteem builder,it instills more responsible behaviors, and it helps keep the chain of communication open,when they are approached by friends offering to get them to go against your wishes ,they will share with you, what was ask of them.and they will always make the decission that you would be proud of. take it from a single dad,IT WORKS"
"I think parents should also think about how hard they tried, because even if they did get bad grades you should make sure she got it, even if she has to stay after school"
"Thank you so much for the input on my child's report card. You have enlightened me on a lot of information I needed to know. My children are the most important blessings in life. I will absolutely use your information to better my child and myself. I find it really helps my child if he and I do his homework together and I ask him to help me understand and teach me, instead of me knowing it all. This really works well and my son enjoys teaching his mom. If we run into a problem, he and I work it out together. And to top it off, he feels so very important and that's what counts. "
"It was great reading the article on understanding grades. My son is almost about to complete elementary school and I thought the homework would increase when he gets to middle school.Without text books or more homework at home it is a little difficult to monitor the kids progress. "
"I enjoyed reading this article but I wish somebody would address the subject of measuring a child's proficiency by the speed in which he can complete, specifically, math problems. Our school district demands that our 2nd grade students complete 70 math problems in 10 minutes or less, 3 or less errors to be 'proficient'. For 'advanceded proficiency' they need to complete 70 problems in 5 minutes! President Bush's 'no child left behind' falls way, way short for those students, like our son, that are not going to be rushed! Accuracy, ability and knowledge have no merit with these ridiculous standards!! Do the 'powers that be' have any idea what they are doing to our children? Do they have children? "
"Make sure that the teachers know that you are involved in your child's academic life. Make sure that they understand that you are supportive of your child's efforts in the classroom. I have found that the teachers are much more supportive of my child when the teachers understand that we are there and available. "
"This is great, I am challenging Speedway's grading scale in Indiana because it is inconsistent, if the child misses one, it is a 'B' and if the child misses two out of 20 it is a 'C'. Human beings do not have the capacity to be 100% error free, we as adults make mistakes every day. Elementary students are developing their self-esteem and self-worth at this time in their life, and if we want productive citizens, then we better remember what it was like to be a child, so they can be better than us, you are only a child once in your life. Guide them and help them, do not hinder them by harshly grading these children on standards that not even adults can abide by. Thank you for this opportunity to express my feelings, the children are our future and we are depending on them to be our future leaders. "
"I am a school bus driver and I am amazed at the number of students that are seeking answers to the many problems that they are encountering in the class room. They tell me that their parents dont know the answers or that their parents simply send them on their way with 'Now that's your problem....figure it out yourself.....that's what I had to do'. If the parents only knew how important it is to the child, for them to be active in their childs school activities.Then you would really see a vast improvement in the overall standing of the school, as compared to other schools within their state. Folks, were losing it. Earning a living is very important. However, it is taking a toll on our future leaders! Money isn't everything. Your child needs you more than he needs the money you are making. Be there! "
"Great article! I am a mother of a 6th grader. We are relocating to Alabama for our next school year (7th grade). I have really enjoyed the Florida school we have been attending. I have had internet access to his grades daily, plus we receive a progress report every 2 weeks. This has really helped in keeping up with his progress (or lack of). "
"This is an informative article and provides good tips for parents and students. My questions is how are grades assessed? On a number scale or by letter grades? "
"Very informative article. I am also looking for ways to help improve my high school son's motivation to be more ambitious in the classroom since he has very little homework. All his teachers complain about disruptive behavior in the classroom, but other than talking to my son about respect, importance of education etc. I cannot think of other ways to encourage him to pay attention to the teacher and less to the numerous girls who (almost litterally) line up for his attention. "
"There should be a way for the parents to access their childs report cards through the internet. Parents should have a code so they can look up the report card but can not change anthing, as well as sign that they have received it. "
"Another good tip is to get your child involved in an interscholastic activity, such as, sports, etc. Studies have showed that these students are more likely to be 'a success in life'. "
"On the subject : gaining admittance into selective colleges; I hope to hear more about this in future articles. Looking for a personal guide aimed towards helping high school kids in their day to day struggles in the areas of maintaining their g.p.a. staying focused, useful strategies ect.......... "
"This was very helpful---both as a parent of a 1st-grader AND a teacher! The bottom line? READ!! Work!! Be Involved! "