What Your Elementary Child’s Teacher is Trying to Tell You on the Report Card

Parents can be confused by the wording in the elementary report card.

A friend was telling me about her daughter’s report card.  She told me that the teacher wrote that her daughter is taking a leadership role in the classroom.  I know her daughter so this surprised me.  I zoned out and thought to myself how nice it was that her daughter was coming around with her peers.  Then I heard her say that her daughter had been given an S in three sections of the learning skills. Specifically the section that would encompass leadership skills. This snapped me out of my daze.

“She got an S in three sections?”

“Yes, those are good right? It means satisfactory.”

“No a G is for good. An S is like the equivalent of saying meh. It’s not bad or good. It’s meh.”


Luckily she had photos of the report card on her phone so I could take a closer look.  My friend is smart.  Really smart.  She has four kids and has read many report cards in her day.  I learned that my friend didn’t know how to read a report card and I would bet that most parents don’t.

Why Staying Positive Can Confuse Parents

In a system where teachers can’t just tell it like it is for fear of hurting someone’s feelings it can be difficult to write a report card that blatantly states when a student is underperforming.  Instead the report card is full of qualifiers and tricky wording to keep the tone positive.  As a result, parents don’t know what the report card is really saying.  Teachers are most certainly not trying to hide anything or trick anyone; they just want to be as positive and encouraging as possible, but focussing only on the good can give parents the wrong impression. As a result, the bad is delivered vaguely and sometimes missed entirely by the reader.


How to Read the Report Card Like a Boss

There is a base comment which explains what is expected of an average student.  The average student would be in the B range.  From that base comment, the teacher will add qualifiers to indicate how the student does when measured against the average.  Qualifiers could indicate a student is higher or lower than the average.

Let’s use this base comment from the learning skills section – student takes a leadership role in group work settings.

This leadership role is what the curriculum says the average student should be able to do.  If this is what your report card says then you likely have a student who earns Gs in the learning skills. Congratulations! If there are other descriptors in the sentence then this is the most important part.

Descriptors that indicate that the student is not yet the average: some, sometimes, rarely, with assistance, with support, is working towards, is not yet able to, or any derivative of these words.  All these words tell the real story. They mean he doesn’t do it regularly so it isn’t an acquired skill yet.  If he can do it, but only with the teacher’s help, this means that he can’t yet do it.  For a skill to be truly mastered it needs to be done independently.

imagesWords that indicate the student does things better than average: always, thoroughly, consistently, and independently.

In the learning skills section of the report card the focus will be on two learning skills per term. The featured learning skills will be directly mentioned at the start of the comment. If your child receives an S or N the teacher will explain why in the comment, even if it’s not from the two featured skills for the term.

The same idea applies for subject comments. The grade will be your first indicator of how your child did and the comment will provide additional information. Look for the descriptors and qualifiers to tell you how they did on a particular concept.

The goal is for students to do things consistently and independently.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Teachers genuinely want your child to succeed. Look for the next steps in the report card comments as this is the teacher’s advice on what should be done to continue to move forward. They tell you as much as they can in the limited number of characters available to them in subject each box. The information is there, you just have to know how to read it!


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