Home     Early Education     K-12    

Avoid report card surprises with constant communication

Teachers share their advice on how to ensure success

Avoid report card surprises

Report card day often arrives with a touch of excitement and perhaps a bit of anxiety, even now when modern communication gives parents and teachers plenty of opportunities to minimize surprises.

While electronic communication is an important tool in tracking a student's progress, there's no substitute for face-to-face exchanges.

Instant progress reports through online portals

Ilene Maddalena has had kids in the Monroe-Woodbury school system long enough to remember when she'd get a hard-copy report card to sign and send back to the teacher. "These days, with my high schoolers, I pull that information up on my phone and it'll show the whole card. We'll talk about what's happening in each of the classes," says Maddalena.  

Parents can check on students' progress at all times by using the online parent portal. Maddalena adds that she refrains from checking too often but she does keep track.

Some teachers use Google classroom, another resource for parents who want to keep up with assignments via email alerts. Maddalena has used this option when she has a particular concern.

READ MORE: 5 ways to help your child succeed in school.

The Valley Central School District in Montgomery uses the parent portal at the middle and high school levels to provide grades, assignment and progress updates and other information. The elementary level portals are less extensive but plans are being made to expand on the information available.

Valley Central describes the parent portal as a school tool, which connects you with your student anytime, anywhere and lets parents enter into an exciting partnership with your child and the district.

Kingston City School District also uses a parent portal giving parents immediate access to their child's schedule, progress reports, NYS Assessment scores, Regents scores, and bus information.  

Many teachers or teams in the Kingston City School Districts also use their own websites, newsletters, blogs, and other modalities such as Class Dojo and Remind to communicate with families.

Nothing can replace face-to-face communication

But even though the delivery system for keeping up with her three children's academic progress has changed - primarily due to technologies such as the online parent portal that gives her access to all assignments, test scores, projects and deadlines - Maddalena's approach to communicating with her kids and their teachers about those grades has stayed basically the same.  

"I try to have my kids take ownership," she says. "And if my child isn't doing as well as expected, I ask, 'Why do you think this happened and what do you need to do about it?'"

Maddalena says parent involvement is key to helping one's own student. "Be as involved as you can in the classroom, district, and education. Communicate with the teacher whether there is a problem or not."

Maddalena insists that there's no substitute for a face-to-face meeting between parents and teachers.

"I go to all the parent-teacher conferences. I like to speak to the teacher to get a sense of how that teacher sees my child," she says.  

Marianne Serratore agrees that real time meetings with parents are critical components of working together towards student success. The mother of a son in sixth grade, and an adult daughter, this former elementary school principal now serves as Asst. Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for Valley Central schools.

"We try to have a face to face with parents before the first report card comes out. It's important to look at the student's weaknesses and strengths. You don't want a lot of surprises."

One key is continuous communication, not just at the end of the 10-week session. Those communications include emails and newsletters, as well as parent conferences.

"When discussing the report card with a student, parents have a delicate line to walk," Serratore says. They need to support the child's efforts and advocate for him, if necessary. But they also must understand that kids need to be invested and have ownership over what their report card looks like.

Set goals, review progress

Erin Nelson, at Kingston City Schools has a similar take on the parent-child-teacher communication process. She has been a teacher for over 17 years. She says report cards and progress reports are one way to regularly track your child's progress.

"It is best to approach each of these as just one method of communication with your child's teachers and school. It is important for families to regularly check folders and backpacks to stay up to date on their progress and have important conversations with your child about short-term and long-term goal-setting and encourage them to seek extra help when needed before the progress reports and report cards arrive."

When report cards arrive, a positive way to review the results is to sit down with your child and discuss areas of strength and areas in need of improvement, Nelson says. "Ask open-ended questions such as what did you do well this quarter, how could you improve, what can you do differently?"

Nelson advises having your child set a goal at the beginning of the year and every quarter.

"Review progress toward that goal and reach out to teachers whenever you have questions."

In addition, set up a consistent time and location for your child to do homework.

In the Kingston district, teachers communicate with families during back to school night, during conferences, through progress reports and report cards, through email and by writing notes in the students' agenda planners and by phone.

If parents don't feel that their students are reaching their potential, it is always a good idea to contact the teacher directly as soon as possible, Nelson says, adding that at middle and high school levels, parents can also reach out to guidance counselors.

"They are all here to help ensure your child's success," Nelson says.

Olivia L. Lawrence is an editor for a news organization