What parents really think about report cards

From self-regulation to organizational skills, Jennifer Pinarski has beef with what gets graded on report cards. And she’s not alone.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.

“This is hard to understand, Mom,” my son Isaac said to me earlier this week. “I mean, I can read the words and know what they mean, but all together doesn’t make any sense to me.”

No, we weren’t reading books in another language or the instruction manuals for IKEA furniture—we were trying to make sense of his report card. To steal a term my friend Dana coined, we just couldn’t make sense of the “edu-babble.”

Like students all across Ontario, my son brought home his report card on Tuesday. One of the youngest students in his classroom (a December baby who I briefly considered red-shirting when he was in junior kindergarten), he’s a bright, eager boy who tries hard at everything and his grades reflect that. Isaac’s classroom truly is a community of learners and the staff work hard to present the curriculum in new ways. For example, this term he’s tried spinning wool, cooked a traditional pioneer Thanksgiving dinner and his physical education includes ice skating and dodgeball. The funny thing is, in reading his report card, I really have no clue exactly what or how he’s doing in class—or why things like the messy state of his desk are included in his final grades. I get that report cards are a tool to help teachers plan and assess but, as a parent, language like “demonstrates considerable effectiveness” doesn’t help me improve any of his skills.

Read more: Why report cards get an F >

I wondered if I was the only parent who missed the good old days when teachers wrote comments by hand and the grades didn’t reflect whether or not you could find your pencils. So, I asked a few of my friends to tell me what they really think about report cards.

I cover the letter grades since they mean nothing to us, and skim through the “edu-babble.” We focus on the teacher’s comments—how is he doing? Bottom line is that he is maturing into a responsible, caring boy. We focus on how his social skills are developing. We don’t ever focus on A’s, B’s—whatever. If he wasn’t meeting the standard or getting the material, we’d know before report card time. Once he’s set goals that hopefully help him develop an intrinsic need to try his best, then we reveal letter grades so he has a gauge. — Nay C. via Facebook

Apparently one of my children “demonstrated the ability to use media conventions and techniques with considerable appropriateness. She is encouraged to continue to plan media projects using a strong message.” Say what? They even sent a booklet home with each report to help parents understand what they’re saying. — Dana R. via Facebook

It is perhaps an antiquated system. Kids are complex. School has a lot to deal with. Reports not helpful. It is not a good tool for anyone anymore. If there is an issue, parents know long before they read about them. — @Peady via Twitter

I care so much about character and self-esteem. They are my top goals for my kids every school year. I look for those nuggets in the “edu-babble.” I know there will be ups and downs with the ruberics, but we have to take it in stride. Introverted/quiet kids are never gonna get those 4s when it is heavily marked on eye contact and voice projection—and we reiterate over and over that our kids need to do the prep work to the best of their ability and use their strengths there. We don’t expect them to change for the sake of a ruberic. — Lousie G. via Facebook

Report cards are not a motivator for my kid and a source of pull-my-hair-out-and-cry moments for me. — @OshnGirl via Twitter

I just feel that report cards have been so de-personalized as to be basically useless. Waste of time for all. They are all tied to “learning outcomes” and, honestly, the report cards are basically useless to me as a parent. And twice I’ve had another child’s name appear within the comments on my eight-year-olds report card thanks to “cut and paste.” — @hpstrawberries via Twitter

As a teacher it is impossible to write them and make them parent-friendly as we’re told to follow specific formats and language. The system seems to be changing to more personalized comments, but we hate them too. — @kingskindies via Twitter

Report cards only tell a narrow story of a child’s development and progress. There is very little about our reports that is personal. I have huge respect for teachers, but sadly our system needs rejuvenation. Oh, and a neat desk isn’t the key to success in life, for the record. :) — @clippo via Twitter

Read more: Do your kids care about their report cards? >

So, clearly, I’m not alone in finding the language in report cards hard to understand and unhelpful when trying to guide my son’s learning at home. But I’m also not the kind of person who complains about something without trying to come up with a solution. In our case, the report card plays a small role in how we gauge our son’s development and we will meet with the teacher to decode the “edu-babble” in areas we’re concerned about. As for my son’s messy desk? Well, let’s just say that it’s a work in progress, but the fact that he knows the 3 Rs impresses us much more than the fact that he isn’t able to find his desk tools with effectiveness.

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