Why I don't let my kids read their report cards (and I'm a teacher!)

It's not that I don't trust what the teacher has to say. But my kids never read their report cards—and I plan to keep it that way for a while.

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This month, my eight-year-old and four-year-old daughters will receive their mid-year report cards. And just like every time they get a report card, I’ll take it out of their backpack as soon as they get home from school, and that’s the last they’ll ever see of it. I’ll pore over it closely—but they won’t.

That’s right: I never let my kids read their report cards. Never have, not sure when I will. And it’s not that I don’t trust what the teachers have to say. In fact, I myself am an elementary school teacher.

Here are four reasons why I never let my kids read their report cards.

A boy student counting his fingersWhen did being an average student become a bad thing?1. It can damage their intrinsic motivation to learn. My kids, like most, are little sponges. They’ve learned so much since starting school, in a wide variety of subjects, and they are open to learning about everything. They work hard simply because they love to learn—and my concern is that if they become aware of their grades, they’ll lose their intrinsic motivation to learn and work, and will only want to work for external validation. It will happen eventually regardless, because there will come a time when I can no longer keep them away from seeing their grades, and that’s fine—I just want to delay it as long as possible.

Put simply: My kids learn because they are fascinated by the world. I don’t want them to learn just so a piece of paper can validate them.

2. The comments aren’t written for students. I spend a lot of time writing report cards to give families a clear picture of how their child is progressing. But those comments are written for parents. Younger kids won’t fully understand what the comments mean, and will often stop at the letter grades—which means they miss out on the important context of how that grade was achieved. A better way for students to hear about their strengths and next-step areas is through parent-teacher interviews around report card time, as well as through ongoing discussions with their teachers.

3. It can affect their self-esteem. I’m not trying to shield my children from failure. It is important for my children to understand when they are doing well in a subject, and also when they are struggling and need extra support. But more importantly, I want them to understand why, so we can continue to nurture the successes but also address whatever issues may be causing them to struggle. Here’s where I’m going with this: When students see a letter grade alone—and that’s often all that kids absorb from their report (see the point above)—those who are struggling may very quickly decide that they received that grade because they are “not good” in a subject, rather than take the time to reflect back on trouble spots, allowing them to feel confident and successful when they come to the same content in the following grade.

4. Kids are competitive. Competition can be highly motivating for kids. But marks on a report card are not a place for competition. No matter how many times I remind my own students that their report card is private, for their parents and their own information only, I inevitably hear, “How many ‘A’s did you get?” in the hallway or schoolyard the next day. I don’t want my children’s self-esteem to suffer, and I also don’t want them to take away anyone else’s sense of pride of accomplishment in their work.

Parents and kids get very excited for report card day, and I get why, but report cards are just one piece of the puzzle that is the educational system. They are an important tool for communication between the school and home, but they are not the only tool—and not the one I feel is the best fit for my kids right now. In time, we will get there, and I’ll make sure my kids understand how to use the information in their report card for reflection and goal-setting. That way, if they move on to post-secondary education, they can be fully responsible for their learning, and able to accept successes and failures for what they are: steps along the path of learning.

The writer of this story has requested anonymity.

Read more:
Why I’m not worried about my kids’ report cards
Does standardized testing really evaluate your kid’s learning?

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