7 Tips for Talking To Your Child About Report Cards

Our mid-year report cards will be released on Friday, January 27th. These reports provide an overview of your child’s progress up to this point in the school year, covering areas in which they have demonstrated understanding and those in which their comprehension is still developing. 

Our report cards generally have two parts: the grades, which are a snapshot of your child’s performance at a given moment in time, and the teachers’ comments, which are written with a whole-child approach. While grades are quick and easy to read and process, they do not always reflect important learner attributes like perseverance, creativity, curiosity, or independent thinking. The teachers’ comments section will provide information about your child’s learning style, strengths, and areas to be improved. 

Interpreting Grades

At the French American Academy, the grades teachers assign can be based on assessment, project work, formal and informal observations, writing samples, and participation in class discussions. We use the following numbers to indicate a student’s level of acquisition for each skill: 

4:  Exceeding Standards. Student performance demonstrates an understanding of the knowledge and skills beyond expectations and consistently shows evidence of a higher level of thinking.

3: Meeting Standards. Student performance demonstrates a thorough understanding of the knowledge and skills expected at this grade level. 

2: Approaching Standards. Student performance demonstrates a partial understanding of the knowledge and skills expected at this grade level. 

1: Acquiring Standards. Student is beginning to demonstrate an understanding of the knowledge and skills expected at this grade level. 

X: Not applicable at this time. 

The goal of this evaluation system is not to show areas in which your child is unsuccessful, but rather to provide an objective picture of where they are in their learning journey. With their teachers’ help, your child has begun to acquire a wide range of new skills; the grades noted in the report card reflect how far along they are in this acquisition. Especially midway through the year, these grades do not represent your child’s cumulative learning for the year. Many of the things teachers evaluate in January will continuously be studied in the coming months. There is no such thing as a failing grade within this system, only room for growth!

“Why don’t I see more 4s?”

When reviewing your child’s grades, you may feel that they have gone beyond meeting standards and have exceeded them – in short, that they deserve more 4s than 3s. It is natural to want your child to receive recognition for areas in which they shine! However, a grade of 3 reflects that your child has met a standard and is on the right track, and our goal as teachers is to bring every student up to that standard. For many of the skills we evaluate, either students have demonstrated thorough understanding or they haven’t yet, but it would be tricky for them to demonstrate more than a thorough understanding. (To give an example from my own class, if I am evaluating whether a student knows the alphabet, I won’t assign them a 4, even if they can recite it forwards and backwards. The standard is to know it; you can’t “extra-know” the alphabet or demonstrate higher thinking with it.)

When we give a 4, it’s because we’ve truly documented and appreciated an effort and understanding beyond the expectations for your child’s grade. 

About those 1s…

Teachers resist stigmatizing a grade of 1 as a “bad” grade, but at the same time it may be a signal that there is room to improve in this area. Some skills continue to develop naturally, with time and maturity. At times there are non-academic reasons for why your child isn’t yet showing mastery of certain skills, related to adjustments they’re making or language difficulties. If you feel concerned about grades in a particular area, we suggest first carefully reading the teachers’ comments, which may suggest causes and solutions for the problem. Following that, you can always reach out to your child’s teachers to seek further advice via email or in an in-person meeting. 

Don’t skip the social-emotional skills!

At the French American Academy, we take the phrase “whole child development” very seriously. Our social and emotional grades (or “school life” for middle schoolers) reflect important aspects of your child’s inner growth: their relationships with others, respect for rules, sense of responsibility, autonomy, self-management and more. These are skills that we actively try to model, teach, and reinforce each day, because academic success is only one component of a well-rounded student’s life. Take the time to note the teachers’ impressions of your child’s social and emotional skills, and discuss them with your child just as you would their academic grades. 

7 Tips for Talking to Your Child about Their Report Card

1. Prepare yourself

Whether or not the results on your child’s report card are what you anticipated, it’s a good idea to consider the words that you’re going to use in preparation for the conversation. Process your own emotions as you need to before the conversation, but when talking with your child, try to eliminate language that makes them responsible for your feelings (such as, “I’m disappointed by this” or “These grades make me happy”). 

For some parents, the idea of initiating this sort of discussion may feel awkward or overwhelming, but the report card is one of the most important connections between school and home. Taking an active interest in your child’s grades, observing which efforts worked well, and collaborating with them to set goals for the future shows them that you’re invested in their progress and will work with them to achieve their goals. 

2. Start by letting them talk

It’s a good idea to learn about your child’s perspective, so ask questions, such as:

“What do you observe in these grades?” 

“Are there any surprises here for you?”

“What efforts did you make that really paid off?” 

“Is there anything you feel proud of?”

“What would you like to do differently in the coming months, to change your grade in ___?” 

Your child’s responses will give you a better picture of their approach to their grades. It could be that they need you to explain the rating system: it’s important that they understand that every number reflects some level of progress, and that no grade is inherently good or bad. They may also need help in detaching their own sense of self worth from the numbers on the page; you’ll probably be able to sense this based on their demeanor (do they seem depressed or excited?) or their words (“I’m so smart/stupid!”). Giving them a reminder that our grades have nothing to do with our intrinsic value might help put things in perspective. 

3. Don’t use words of recrimination … 

There is no reason to make your child feel bad about what grades they got. Negative reinforcement does not create motivation, it does not improve work ethic, and it certainly won’t inspire a love of learning. In fact, it ingrains a mental framework in which their slow progress or lack of academic success is associated with your disapproval and the stressful negative emotions that come with that. 

4. …but be sparing with praise, as well

Praise is tricky. In fact, praise can be counterproductive. 

In American culture, we tend to want everyone to feel good about themselves, so it feels strange to withhold words of praise. But as I mentioned above with words of recrimination, when you shower your child with praise, they begin to link their success to your words of approval and the flood of positive emotions that accompany it. This externalizes their motivation – they’re working hard to please you, instead of working hard because they’re intrinsically motivated to do well. Giving a child a compliment such as “you’re so smart!” promotes a fixed mindset: as long as things continue to be easy for them, they won’t feel the need to make an effort because they “know” they’re smart, and when things become more difficult and your child doesn’t meet instant success, they may assume that they’re no longer “smart” and should give up. This video shares results from a series of mindset studies about how a minor shift in how we praise children can lead to impressive improvements in attitude and performance. 

5. Focus on effort

Praising your child’s effort is of greater value, but it’s ineffective to praise effort that was misdirected or didn’t lead to a useful outcome. Psychologist Carol Dweck reminds us in this article, “The whole idea of growth-mindset praise is to focus on the learning process. When you focus on effort, [you have to] show how effort created learning progress or success.” Author and educator James Anderson points out, “not all effort is created equal” – he notes that pointing out and encouraging “effective effort” is most likely to contribute to a student’s overall growth. So when discussing your child’s grades with them, brainstorm together about what strategies you or they have noticed that really paid off. (This article has a lot of useful advice about how to identify effective effort and the ways in which it leads to positive development.) 

6. The power of neutral observation

In Responsive Classroom training, teachers are encouraged to minimize “praising language”, in order to avoid the positive/negative feedback-emotion-judgment loop that becomes embedded in our students’ minds. Instead, using neutral observation language, which objectively helps students see which efforts are most effective, has been proven to be the most effective way to improve and maintain performance. This is because first of all, informational feedback about behaviors we notice can help students become more aware of themselves and their habits without feeling judged. Secondly, formulating neutral statements about which efforts lead to various outcomes empowers students to seek more effective strategies. Talk with your child about which behaviors they observe in themselves – both effective and ineffective ones – and work with them to notice the outcomes as reflected in their grades. From there, you can have a discussion together about steps they can take to make more effective efforts in their work. 

7. Setting goals with your child

There is no denying the link between goal-setting and success. Here are some reminders about best goal-setting practices: 

  • You can guide your child in setting goals, but the wording and the focus should come from them. They have more buy-in if they’re committing to something they’ve formulated. Help them make sure their goals are SMART
  • Don’t link goals to grade outcomes, but rather to behaviors. Goals help your child with the learning process, and should reflect effective effort – those strategies that push students to learn and grow. 
  • Goals should offer a clear picture of the desired behavior. “I won’t play video games if I have homework to do” doesn’t leave information about how that time will be spent instead. “I will spend 15 minutes practicing my spelling words every weekday after supper” is a clear, manageable action plan that leaves no ambiguity. 
  • Have frequent informal chats with your child to see how they’re managing; goals can be modified and retooled as children face new challenges. 
  • Finally, don’t forget that improving social and emotional skills should also be part of your child’s goals. “I will take 5 deep breaths when I start feeling anxious” is an example of a goal that encourages children to notice their own state of mind and take positive action to improve it. 

Moving forward

Conversations about how your child is developing learning strategies and making progress should be a regular part of the way that you monitor their school life. Rather than imbuing these talks with positive or negative emotions, a neutral approach that encourages your child to seek the most effective techniques for self-improvement will empower them to tackle challenges with confidence.

Are you curious about the differences between the French and American grade systems? Visit our blog to learn more!


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