Understanding Your Child's Report Card Comments

Understanding Your Child

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Updated on Jun 3, 2011

It's report card season and your child comes home with a report card filled with phrases like “easily distracted” or “can be disruptive.” You want to know more about what this means and how you can help. How can you figure out exactly what the problem is, and what are you supposed to do about it?

Report card comments scare many parents. After all, teachers seem to be passing judgment on your children and summing up a marking period full of highs and lows into a few short sentences. Understanding how teachers view report card comments can be helpful in reacting appropriately to them and taking action in a meaningful way.

Barbara Kruger, co-owner of with 24 years of elementary teaching experience, emphasizes the fact that a report card comment is supposed to be helpful for parents — not scare them away or make them angry. “It can offer suggestions on how the parent can help the student at home, praise the student for showing improvement, or point out where the student is having some difficulty,” she says. Especially for parents who have not been able to attend parent-teacher conferences, it can give the teacher an opportunity to communicate with parents about how they can help their children the most.

Veteran teacher Dina Karlip, who has taught third and fourth grade in public and parochial schools for over thirty years, agrees. “It allows me to elaborate more on sterile, arbitrary grades, which are based on more objective criteria,” she says. “In the comments, I can explain what I mean. If it’s a low grade, I can explain the reasons for it, and what areas the child needs to work on. If it is a changing grade [that is higher or lower than the previous marking period], I can explain the reason for the change.”

Mrs. Karlip stresses that comments on the last report card of the year are especially essential. They are useful in giving parents suggestions about what each child should do in the summer in order to maintain skills or improve their skills. Contrary to what some parents believe, most students have some area that they should work on over the summer in order to ensure that they will not fall behind in the coming year, and some teachers use report card comments to communicate that.

So don't take those comments lightly simply because the year is over! Your child's teacher is trying to communicate things that will be helpful and useful for your child in her next school year. No one knows better than her teacher what will help her to succeed and do her best in school. Use the time off during the summer as a time to relax but also prepare for the coming year.

But sometimes report card comments are not helpful at all. If the comment on your child’s report card seems scripted, it might be. There are actually “cheat sheet” books filled with lists of phrases that teachers can use in order to fill in report card comments. Less experienced teachers may be using these scripted phrases in your child’s report card comments. Teachers who are more confident and are willing to put in the effort, however, will often create their own unique comments, tailor-made for each student.

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