B is for babble

Confused by report card lingo? We've done some decoding for you

When my eldest son brought home his first report card in grade one, I was bursting. I eagerly ripped open the brown envelope and fished out the white form that would affirm the hours we’d spent reading and counting with our son had made him a child genius.

As it turned out, it would have taken a genius to explain the report card. Case in point: “With a high degree of effectiveness, uses some conventions of written materials to understand reading selections.”

I have a university degree — in communications, no less — so why didn’t this make sense to me? It appears I’m not alone. Even teachers acknowledge that report card comments often leave parents confused or afraid.

“I really think that creating report cards full of educational jargon, in the past five years, has led to parents not knowing what the reports are actually saying. If their child isn’t doing well, they aren’t sure how best to help him,” says teacher Chris Chechin, an elementary school teacher in Scarborough, Ont.

Want to score an A in understanding your child’s next report card? Take our crash course on how to interpret some common educational terms.

“Sydney uses some conventions…”
Teachers use this phrase quite often to assess writing. Conventions are the mechanics of a language, such as form (paragraph, essay), word choice, usage, spelling and punctuation.

“Derek communicates responses clearly…”
Your child is able to show his teacher that he understands a particular subject through his written work and discussions in class.

“With a high degree of effectiveness, Keisha is able to…”
Every province sets academic standards for students to meet. For example, a grade-three student in Ontario is expected to “read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, graphic and informational texts.” How close your child comes to meeting those standards is reflected by the modifier (“high,” “some,” “low”) the teacher uses.

“Ali has met all learning outcomes (or curriculum outcomes)…”
Learning outcomes are set by provincial/territorial education ministries and refer to what your child must learn within a school year to pass a grade level. Comments about outcomes on your child’s report card will give you a good idea as to whether he is exceeding, meeting, approaching or not yet meeting those expectations.

“Courtney requires remediation in math…”
If your child receives an R (for extensive remediation) in a subject, it means she’s scored below 50 percent in a subject. She will need extra help and a specific learning plan developed with the teacher so she can succeed in the class.

“Colin has met most goals in his IEP…”
An individual education plan (IEP) is developed with input from parents and teachers of children with special educational needs, and the children themselves. It identifies your child’s learning goals and how he can attain them. It also describes how programs will be modified to accommodate your child and the additional services the teacher and school will provide.

“Amelie’s portfolio shows steady progress…”
A student’s portfolio is an archive of work that she, her parent and teacher use as an ongoing measure of her progress. A portfolio may include completed tests, essays and daily work.

“Jen shows improvements in using manipulatives…”
Math manipulatives are materials students use to solve math problems. They include models, blocks, coloured tiles, cubes, 3-D shapes and more. They help make abstract ideas real (for instance, your child might use tiles to create three rows of nine blocks to visualize multiplying 3 x 9).

“Tyrone’s math journal shows he grasps some concepts…”
A journal is where your child writes about the experience of math, for instance, what steps were taken, and why they were taken, to arrive at an answer. Students also use math journals to express their frustration or confusion with math problems, and by teachers to assess a student’s progress.

“Emma has great phonemic awareness…”
This is different from phonics. It’s the ability to identify and manipulate sounds to form words. In English, there are 44 phonemes or sound units — including sounds associated with each letter of the alphabet, as well as those such as th and ou. If your child’s phonemic awareness is not fully developed, she’ll often mishear and mispronounce words.

The big day arrives, and instead of A’s and B’s, your son’s report card is flush with C’s. What now?

• Don’t just focus on the letter grade. The report card is only a snapshot — a picture of how your child is doing at that point in time, says Tracy Hayhurst, the central coordinating principal of elementary curriculum for the Toronto District School Board. She says if there’s time left in the school year for improvement, that should be your focus.

• Look at overall performance. “Some children may be strong in language but not in math, or strong in science but not the arts,” says Hayhurst. “Look at the whole child.” That means also taking your child’s social development, problem-solving ability and initiative into consideration.

• Don’t get angry. Take time to digest the comments and grades, then talk about the good stuff and ways to improve the bad. Failure can be scary. Instead of criticizing and punishing your child, set up a plan for improvement.

• Look beyond the report card. Hayhurst suggests asking your child questions to find out how he feels about school. If there’s a problem that is affecting his grades, such as bullying or boredom in the classroom, speak to his teacher to help resolve it.

• Don’t offer bribes as incentives. According to Alan Welde, principal of Round Hill School in Round Hill, Alta., offering money for good grades sends the wrong message. Instead, praise effort along the way and, if you feel it’s warranted, surprise your child with a small gift or treat.

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