Tracking your student’s progress, knowing when to intervene, and communicating with your child’s teacher about their academic performance can be overwhelming. We’ve outlined some tips, strategies, and questions to ask yourself, your child, and your child’s teacher that’ll make the process more manageable and effective for everyone.
Erika Carson, Eds.
Trilogy Mentors, Chief Learning Officer
What to do if my child receives a poor grade
Getting an “F”, any grade below what was expected, or any type of poor review can be a big blow to a student’s confidence and a parent’s hopes, but it isn’t the end of the road for kids. A grade letter and/or a performance review is simply an indicator that can tell us when a student is struggling with classroom content or is not connecting with instruction delivery. This does’t mean that the teacher is bad or that the student is incapable - it means that something needs to change.
Many teachers and professors use two categories of assessments to gauge how well a student is grasping content and mastering a skill – these two categories are referred to as summative and formative assessments. Summative assessments are what we think of when we think of most assessments – standardized tests, unit tests, project grades, etc. They “summarize” a student’s understanding of the material being taught and are generally used less frequently than formative assessments. Formative assessments, which I prefer to call “Informative” assessments, can be equal or less formal than summative assessments. The goal of formative assessments is to create little check-ins with students. Some teachers use quizzes, some use homework, some use journals, and some might even have weekly meetings with their students. These should be less of a punishment and more of a tool. Parents can have these informal assessments with their children and teens as well.
How can I support my child and promote academic success?
1. Discuss expectations, goals, progress, and improvement with your child.
This is a great strategy to start off the school year or in response to the indicators we discussed above. Rather than arguing about what didn’t happen or the grade that wasn’t achieved, try to dive into a plan for tracking and achieving future success and work with your child to create the plan. This will promote executive functions like planning and tracking progress. To relate this to a work scenario, you wouldn’t go to your boss with just a problem – it’s always better to go in with a solution to tackle that problem. Then, an action can be taken to enact a solution.
2. Ways to track progress and improvement
In addition to traditional tracking systems like report cards and test grades, here are a few suggestions to create activities to track progress and improvements over time.
Creating a physical chart or an online chart to measure and track improvement. Charts don’t have to reflect only one type of data point. Include ways for your student to communicate their confidence and other flexible end goals like taking initiative/level of independence or their ability to remain organized and keep track of due dates and deadlines.
Incorporating gamification. Become an “investor” in a stock market model or use a fantasy football model to track and report on your students “stats” in each of their classes. This’ll make it a challenge or competition and keep your student engaged in their own learning and progress.
Use activities to encourage discussions about your student’s school performance, confidence with school, goals, and more. This applies to the activities above, or you can focus on the discussion itself by filling a jar with questions created by both you and your student. Make a decision with your child about how many questions you will pull from the jar each day to talk about how things are going with all their learning experiences.
3. What to look for to understand when it’s time to intervene
Obvious indicators include the grades that your student brings home on tests, homework, and other assignments. Other things to look out for and questions to ask include:
How much time is my child spending on an assignment. Understand whether your child is spending more time on work because they want to or because they have to. Are they struggling with the material or exceeding the minimum requirements?
Is the time my child spends on homework in alignment with the scores they’ve received? Are they spending excess time on assignments but receiving grades, reviews, and assessments that do not reflect the time invested in study and practice? In this case, start the planning process and begin a neutral conversation to offer help and support.
Or maybe the hard work is paying off and the you’ve seen significant improvement, in which case an intervention may be to voice your observations of their commitment and effort and celebrate the success!
Ask others about their experience.
Ask your child, your child’s teacher, and other parents about how your child’s peers are performing and what their experience has been in the same class or with assignments and assessments.
Is my child avoiding certain assignments related to specific content or classes?
Do they prefer to stick to material from the courses they are succeeding in?
Listen to what your student is saying about the teachers or classes they have.
If your child is repeatedly using negative language when discussing a specific class or teacher that’s a red flag that should be addressed. If they used negative language about more than one class it’s a good time to sit down with your student’s teachers.
4. Questions to ask your child’s teacher
Keep in mind that this is to help you understand your child’s teacher and better support your student.
Ask your student’s teacher about the formative and summative assessments they are using in the classroom – try to figure out if these are more informative or punitive.
Ask them how they are using that information to assess your child and how you can use this information to support his or her efforts.
Ask about how you can establish on-going communications about your student’s performance - information that includes, but goes beyond, standard grades. Information pertaining to your child’s soft skills which include self-reflection, confidence, communication, organization, etc. are helpful as well.
Ask your student’s teacher when and how they review both summative and formative assessment results with your student. Consider asking how they work with your student to set goals, and how they help your child track their own progress.
Tell us what you think of these suggestions in the comments section below. If you have any additional tips or suggestions for parents and students in regards to tracking students’ progress, share those as well!