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How to Read a Report Card


Q. My daughter's report card is 12 pages long. I don't know what half of it means. Help!


Report cards are the most important form of communication between school and home, and a key accountability tool. They are the best way for parents to evaluate the quality of the job the school is doing in educating students.


The report card should be a good tool for letting parents know exactly where their children stand. Combined with Internet access to grades throughout the year, and regular progress reports, the report card should never be a surprise or a mystery to any parent.


It could be that your child's report card is "state of the art" for education today, though, and your district just failed to explain it to you properly.


A well-run school will make sure parents understand the symbols, letters, numbers, grading scales and comment sections of their report card. This should be handled in the student handbook, at Open House, Curriculum Night, and certainly during parent-teacher conferences when the report cards should be reviewed and explained. If that is not happening, contact your child's teacher, and if he or she can't explain the card, go up the chain of command - principal, central-office staff, and elected school board - to bring about change.


Today's report card look more like a generic printout, with a set of state "standards" and a notation whether or not your child has "met" each standard and can be called "proficient." In many districts, except for the high-school level, numerical and letter grades are no more, and instead, the child's "performance levels" are noted, compared to the state standards.


Some parents yearn for the olden days, when the "ABCDF" scale of grading was employed., and the simple card could be read and understood in seconds. Others liked the numerical style, 1 through 8, with 1 being the highest, finding numbers to be more reliable and understandable than verbal descriptions of the child's progress.


When it all changed was in the 1990s, when outcome-based education became the prevalent management tool in school systems across the country. When outcomes, now commonly called "standards," began driving K-12 education, the grading and assessment processes became more complex, expensive, and, some would say, not as academically valid and reliable as in the past.


Others, however, say standards-based education is more objective and the assessment process more fair to all learners, not just those who test well.


Here's a typical grading chart:


A - Advanced - the student's performance exceeds the standard


B - Proficient - the student's performance meets the standard


C - Needs Improvement - the student's performance partially meets the standard


D - Warning - the student is not demonstrating the knowledge or skills necessary to meet the standard


A benefit to the new-styled report cards is that they typically break down each subject area into sub-categories and give a score. That way you can see where your child might be doing standard work or better, and where he or she might need extra help.


For example: with a Language Arts grade of "C," you might notice that your child's spelling, grammar and punctuation are dragging the grade down, while his or her ability to discuss literature in class rates an "A," above the standard. This system gives you more to talk about with your child about making progress in specific areas in school, which is good.



Homework: Here's a well-explained report card handbook from a school district in Pennsylvania:


By Susan Darst Williams Parental Involvement 08 2008



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