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Understand Report Cards & Prepare for Parent-Teacher Conferences

Whether you have a parent-teacher conference coming up or you need help understanding your child’s needs, we’ll be there to help you at Partners for Learning in Winnipeg. Our clinician, tutors and teachers will assist you and help you prepare for a teacher conference. We’ll ensure that you’re asking the right questions and getting the most out of it.

Helping Parents Understand Their Child’s Needs

Report cards are sent home from schools several times a year. For some parents they are a time to celebrate their child's successes and to, in some ways, "relax" into knowing that their child is doing well with their various school subjects. For many other parents, however, it is a time of anxiety and concern. It can be a surprise to some, who felt that their child was performing adequately within the school system but for others, it is a written confirmation that recognizes academic concerns they had suspected all along.

Report Cards and Parents

Parents usually know their child better than anyone and if they are concerned, it is usually not a waste of time to investigate the problem and seek a solution. Some parents may be advised to "wait and see" or to let the child "grow up" a little. Problems of any substance don't just go away if left unattended. They usually begin to snowball and build up a head of poor self-esteem, a defeatist attitude as well as behavioral and academic problems. A report card is a valuable tool for a parent to assess any potential problems and then work on a solution with the school.

The Purpose of Report Cards

Your child's report card has several purposes and with it, different audiences. These include parents, the child, teachers and administrators. The primary purpose of the report card is to provide detailed information on your child's achievement and effort based on curricular expectations, your child as a learner and the performance of the other children in the classroom. The feedback can become a vehicle for a parent to understand how well their child is performing in their grade compared to their peers as well as compared to expectations from curriculum standards. The comments and grades can provide valuable information to parents about a potential or existing problem and this information can be the basis of creating an instructional plan of action for effectively dealing with the problem.

Report cards also can have a constructive impact on the child himself. Marks and comments can serve to motivate students and provide feedback to them on their achievement and effort. Effective comments can be especially powerful in not only providing the child with necessary feedback, but they can also offer suggestions for dealing with the problem at a student level.

Finally, report cards can provide administrators with information on how well students in their schools are performing. This can include teaching trends at a school level that they may wish to both acknowledge and continue (for example, strong writing skills in all grades) as well as areas that require improvement (for example, weak problem solving in middle years).

Deciphering Terms on a Report Card

Sometimes terms used in a report card can be interpreted in a way that may be somewhat confusing to the parent. A parent can take a comment or term to mean something that is not quite what the teacher intended. If you are unsure what these terms mean be sure to ask your child's teacher for a detailed explanation or to provide specific criteria for it. It is much better to understand fully what a teacher means than to discover at a later date that there was a problem and that now it is a more complex one. If there is a "needs improvement" comment, it may be fair to assume that your child is not performing to grade expectations in that particular area. Ask what specifically needs to improve, how it will be done and who will be involved.

If a child is "working at his own rate or level", most likely this child is not currently performing at grade level and in fact, may be on a special program. If your child's program has been adapted to suit his needs, ask for details. A parent needs to know what level a child is working at and in what areas. One also needs to become familiar with the skills and strategies that are being taught, what professionals are involved (resource teachers, speech and language clinicians etc.) and what para professionals, if any, are part of the team. As well, a parent needs to be familiar with specific goals that have been identified. It is also helpful to understand the evaluation system that is in place to measure growth and to provide any necessary program adjustments.

When a report card indicates that a child has been "promoted" to the next grade, one can conclude that all curricular expectations have been met in the present grade. If the report indicates that the child has been "placed" in the next grade, a parent needs to be aware of what curricular expectations have not been met. Often such students are on an individualized plan with expectations to continue learning in their own program within the next grade.

Make the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parents are often very eager to attend a Parent-Teacher conference but aren't always sure how best to prepare for it and what questions to ask. The following ideas may help a parent to know how to participate in a conference and obtain valuable information and insights about their child as a learner.

Be Realistic

Go into the conference with realistic goals and expectations. If your child has a lot of difficulties with learning at school, know that a 15 minute meeting may not be enough time to discuss all areas of concern that you have. It is then important to prioritize the problem areas for the meeting or to request a longer meeting at another time.

Come Prepared

Do your homework before the conference so that you know what you wish to discuss ahead of time. Both parents may wish to formulate questions carefully to facilitate a useful discussion. For example, "How is my child doing?" is somewhat vague compared to questions such as "What are the main areas of difficulty my child has in Math? What can we do together to solve this problem?", which provide a focus for discussion and a plan of action with the school.

Accept That You May Not Get It All

Accept that your child's school is most likely doing all that they can to deal with your child's problems but that it may not be enough. Schools are often overwhelmed with many complex and challenging problems which many students face when they attend school. Longstanding learning problems require ongoing, collaborative efforts from parents, school personnel and outside professionals involved with the child so that academic, emotional, social and behavioral progress can be made. Parents need to prioritize the needs of their child with the school and may seek outside school help as needed to maximize their child's progress at school.

Be on Time

Parent-teacher conferences are very often tight and demanding schedules for your child's teacher. Be sure to arrive a few minutes early so you will be able to keep your allotted time with the teacher. Parents with several conferences for different children need to be sure that they have enough time to get to the next meeting.

Set the Tone for Teamwork

If your child is having difficulty at school, parents need to express their willingness to work with the school and to assume an appropriate role in the plan of action created. This may mean setting aside time on a regular basis for supervising homework, reading with the child, or providing some practice time in math.

Be Open to Suggestions

It can be hard for a parent to hear how their child is struggling at school and one may want, on some level, to offer support in the form of reasons for failure. At other times it may seem easier to blame someone for the problems. The best thing a parent can do to help their child is to try and be open to suggestions being offered by various professionals in the field. After some time reflecting on these ideas, parents may need to make some necessary changes at home in order to support the plan at school. A middle school child who is failing core subjects at school may need help in limiting extra-curricular sports and other activities so that he has the time and energy to give to homework, studying and additional tutoring supports. It may also require a family decision to turn off the TV on a regular basis so that engaged thinking can take place with homework and other activities.

Offer Information

You as the parent know your child better than anyone and may be able to provide valuable insights that can contribute to understanding your child and the problem as well as to creating an effective solution and plan of action. Have the intention to become actively involved at all school meetings involving your child.

Avoid Confusion

Report cards don't always include information that parents wish to see and the comments and grades can fuel their fears, anxiety and anger. Know that these emotions do not help in solving a problem so deal with them prior to the conference. Arrive at the meeting with an intention to discuss the situation honestly and openly but plan to be positive and supportive of a proposed plan.

Take Ownership

Parents who are concerned about their child's progress at school need to take ownership of the problem. This includes attending all meetings as well as actively participating at them. Parents should ask for a copy of the plan of action with everyone's responsibilities listed and keep a file on all valuable reports, minutes of meetings and other valuable information. Remember, though, there is no such thing as a quick fix so don't expect a simple solution. There are no simple solutions to a learning problem. Rather, students with learning problems require appropriate programming with skills and strategies being taught by a trained professional and sufficient guided practice in a learning environment that immerses a child with successes. Goals need to be realistic and attainable so that progress can be seen on an ongoing basis. All these efforts require time and often a long term remedial plan of action.

Questions for Parents to Consider

The following are some questions for parents to consider when studying their child's report card:

  • What specific skills areas need improvement?
  • Who will help my child with this? How will I be kept informed about progress or problems encountered?
  • Is my child doing grade level work? If not, how wide is the gap for his current grade? Is this happening in all subjects?
  • What skills and strategies need to be taught and practiced to narrow this gap?
  • How long do you expect this to take?
  • When and how will you assess growth?
  • How often should we meet to discuss my child's problems, the instructional goals, his progress and other areas of concern?
  • If other professionals are involved, how will they collaborate on their findings and recommendations?

These and other questions can be valuable tools for parents as they prepare to meet their child's teachers for parent-teacher conferences. It can be most useful for a parent to take the time to think through and plan for these valuable opportunities to talk with your child's teachers and to help create an effective plan of action.

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