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This title may bring to mind annual spring testing or ongoing testing on core curriculum standards. Is it enough to review test scores and read your child’s report cards several times a year to know how he is doing? I don’t think so. Parents who really want to understand their child’s growth need to explore further.

Don’t be shocked when I tell you many report cards are subjective. They can be helpful if they include checklists of skills mastered or proficiency scores on specific tasks. You can look at the skills not yet mastered or the lower scores to know where to help your child. If they simply tell you “A, B, C” or “1, 2, 3,” then you’re more likely getting subjective input from teachers.

As a principal, I heard more than once from parents whose child, previously an “A” student, was now getting “B” grades. They were upset with their child, when, in fact, the only change was the teacher doing the evaluation. I am not faulting teachers, who try to be objective. But despite our best efforts, some teachers are more demanding than others and give out fewer high grades; others are more likely to attempt to motivate students by giving credit for effort.

If you’re concerned about how your child is doing, you can ask the teacher about his grading system. Especially at the higher grades, how are homework, tests, special projects and class participation weighted? Many teachers give this information to their students, but not all kids use it to their best advantage. If the end-of-trimester test is worth a large part of the final grade, then test preparation becomes very important. Many teachers give students topics to study for a test; if your child isn’t bringing this information home, you might need to establish your own line of communication with the teacher.

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Of course, learning goes beyond a grade on a test or a report card. Can your kids talk about the subjects they are learning? Ask the teacher for the core standards or find them online. Then engage your children in conversation about the topics included, look at their writing for evidence of skills learned, or give them verbal problems requiring specific math skills.

You can also ask your child to evaluate his own learning progress. Hold regular conversations about what the teacher is presenting. Your attention is, itself, a huge motivator. Have him show you he can complete tasks from the last review and ask him to identify new topics or skills he is learning. Help him to feel pride in his accomplishments. Encourage him to set goals for improvement if he is struggling and help him to get assistance in catching up if he is behind.

The school year is half over. This is a good time to review with your children all they have learned so far, and then set some goals for the rest of the year. Those goals could be as basic as getting to bed earlier, completing homework in a more timely fashion, or being neater in their work. Or they could involve seeking help from the teacher or a tutor in areas of need. Whatever you do, talking with your kids about their progress is a chance to model self-improvement strategies and to show them that you care — one of the most important factors in their learning.

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Lenore Hirsch is a retired school principal living in Napa. Send questions to lenorehirsch@att.net. Please include your child’s age or grade.

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