The excitement of back to school may have waned but the arrival of November brings with it a new surge of emotions. It’s report card time.
And for the first time since my child started school, I’ll be staring down at a sheet that tells me how my son has done in each class and, thanks to the new requirements set by Quebec’s Education Ministry, how his work compares to his classmates.
My son attended an alternative elementary school where “evaluations” (never called report cards) consisted of student portfolios, teacher comments and a written description of what a child had accomplished. There were no grades, which was fine by me. He seemed to grasp the material presented, had no learning difficulties and eventually was accepted into an enriched high school program.
But he will now receive a more traditional report card and I’m wondering how exactly I should discuss it with him. If the grades are good, do I heap on the praise? What if he didn’t do well in a subject? Do I scold him?
Kerry Ballard, a teacher at Lower Canada College in N.D.G., says this type of concern about report cards is very common. She suggests parents need to take a step back and look at the big picture.
“A report card is just one small part of a child’s overall education,” she says. “What is really important is what is happening every day in the classroom.”
When parents are involved in their children’s education — looking over homework, asking about tests, reading any notes from the teacher — they are likely to know how things are going on a day-to-day basis. In many ways, a report card shouldn’t contain too many surprises. Parents need to be aware of the kinds of work their children are expected to do and if it is getting done.
Even though my son is now in high school, I’ve been pleased to see that many teachers insist on a parent’s signature on tests and quizzes. I also regularly sit down with my son and have him show me his work (homework, class work and quizzes). This gives us a chance to talk about what he is enjoying and what he finds difficult. It has also allowed us to figure out some strategies for improving how he does his work, such as always double checking his math problems and reading a test question through twice to make sure he has understood what is being asked.
While it can be discouraging if a child arrives with a poor report card, Ballard says that blame and punishment will simply backfire. “I do believe that every child wants to succeed and do well,” she says. So parents might want to first talk about the praise-worthy elements of the report.
This might be a good grade or a positive comment made by the teacher in the written comments section. Then, you can talk about the problem areas. Ballard advocates a goal-setting approach, meaning a parent might say something like, “It looks like you are having difficulties in French. Let’s figure out what we can do about that.”
This approach shifts the focus away from the past (what a child did or did not do during the term) to the future. “The goal is improvement,” Ballard says. “So the report card tells us where we are and then we talk about where do we want to go from here.”
The arrival of report cards is usually followed by parent-teacher meetings, which Ballard says are a must, especially if parents have worries or concerns over a child’s progress. These meetings allow the adults to clarify what is happening in the classroom and what a child needs to accomplish as well as to brainstorm strategies for helping a child succeed.
At some high schools, the parent-teacher meeting may be very short, with the evening taking place in a gym or large room and discussion limited to a few minutes with each teacher. Whatever the situation, if a parent still has concerns over a report card, Ballard suggests scheduling a face-to face meeting. “This is not something that should be done by email,” she cautions.
While I’m not expecting any surprises come report card time, I will be taking the “goal setting” approach suggested by Ballard. After watching my son make his way through elementary school, I know both his strengths and weaknesses. I’m hopeful that report card time will provide an opportunity for us to talk, once again, about why education is a family value and why we expect him to do his best. We’ll probably talk about the need to write down all the assignments. We’ll also encourage him to take his time completing tests. Then we’ll put the card away, hoping that it will have served its purpose.