Understanding the Middle School Report Card: 5 Tips

Report card day can often be a stressful time for both parents and students.

Parents facing a child's poor report card may find themselves feeling disappointed by the results or apprehensive about the best way to discuss failing grades with their child's teacher.

Students can feel discouraged if they've been struggling to do better for a while, but they are just not able to make the grades. Here's how to talk to your child about his or her report card!

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Tips for Talking to Your Middle Schooler About Report Cards

1. If there was a grade that was lower than expected, make a plan for how to improve it.

What brought down the overall grade? Were there concepts that just stumped him or her? Was it quizzes, tests, homework, class participation? Ask your child to identify the area that needed the most improvement and to lay out 2-3 ways to turn that around.

2. Talk to your child about what he or she was struggling with.

Ask your child to think of a time when he or she easily understood a new topic, or really connected to a teacher's teaching style. "What was it about that topic or teaching style that worked well for you?" You may discover that your child learns better by taking notes, reviewing ideas in a group of peers or watching a video. Find ways to incorporate those strategies into other subjects as well.

3. Foster your child's strengths, talents and interests.

Give lots of praise and support your child's efforts.

4. Monitor your child's progress.

Most schools grant parents access to their child's account in the district's learning management system. If you're concerned about your child's progress, it's time to log in and see a record of their work. Are assignments being turned in? And on time? What do classwork grades look like? If you spot missing or late assignments, organization skills may need a boost.

If you see low classwork scores, then it's time for a conversation with the teacher to determine the nature of the problem. Is your child distracted or unfocused during the lessons, or is he or she truly struggling with the content? Once you have more details, you can decide what to do next — whether it's a request for additional support from the teacher, or to find a tutor. 

5. Encourage your child to set up a study plan.

Your child needs to develop regular study habits and spend an adequate amount of time every day on completing homework and studying for tests. Be aware of your child's assignments, and observe whether your student is using time effectively to tackle homework and study. Encourage him or her to put forth his or her best effort and to persevere.

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What's Going on Academically in Middle School

We've compiled some important things to know about what's happening academically in middle school, as well as some simple tips you can use to empower your child to bring home a report card that will make everyone proud of progress and accomplishments.

Reading and writing: They're about to get tougher

In middle school, the expectations for reading and writing become much more sophisticated.

Students are expected to read novels and keep up. They have to be able to express themselves in writing and think critically about what they read. They're going to be writing longer pieces than they're used to writing.

This means your child has to be 100% fluent in reading and writing.

If kids are distracted, lack confidence, or are struggling with reading or writing, they're going to fall behind faster and faster.

By the end of middle school in the United States:

  • Two-thirds of 8th graders read below grade level.
  • Three-quarters of 8th graders are not proficient in writing. (Source: NAEP)

Imagine how much more challenging high school, college and careers will be for them!

Often times, kids are embarrassed and will try to hide their skill deficiencies.

This means you need to be a detective and look for clues. To find these clues, it's important to read with your child — whether for homework or just for pleasure.

Math: One skill builds on the next, so there isn't room for gaps

New math concepts will be introduced throughout the middle school years, including algebraic concepts.

But in order to be able to master those concepts, kids need to have a strong foundation and understanding of multiplication, division, fractions and decimals.

Math is sequential.

One concept builds on the next.

In the United States, there's a big drop-off in math achievement late in middle school. This is when many students are really digging into algebra.

The report card can be one of the indicators on whether your child is mastering core math skills during the middle school years and becoming "fluent" with skills.

This means your child has developed automatic recall of math facts and has essential skills down, like being able to multiply and divide both fractions and decimals with confidence.

For some kids, this takes extra practice.

Middle school is also the time when your child will get on a math "track" that affects whether he or she can take calculus in high school.

TIP: Get familiar with the math tracks in your school system:

  • How are students placed in math classes?
  • Is there an advanced track?
  • If so, what are the grade requirements to get into it?
  • Does the latest report card have any implications on a future track?

Ask your child's math teacher, guidance counselor or even other parents.

Many schools offer pre-algebra to students in grade 7. A few schools may even begin teaching pre-algebra in grade 6.

Kids who have started Algebra 1 by 8th grade will have more opportunities for trigonometry and calculus in high school — courses that can count for college/university credits.

But, there's more to consider than just math skills. For example, does your child have the commitment and organization skills to handle these advanced classes?

It's important that kids aren't pushed into more difficult math classes before they're ready. You don't want them to struggle and give up on math.

Don't worry, kids who take algebra in grade 9 can still have a successful math career!

How to Help Your Child Navigate Middle School After the Report Card:

Ensure there's a dedicated place for studying.

Have your child find a quiet, uncluttered space in your home where it's more comfortable to do homework and it's a good environment for focusing.

Show an interest in homework.

If your student is struggling, check your child's work. There are usually multiple methods to get to an answer, so it doesn't matter if your method is different from your child's method. But you should both get the same answer! If your answers are different, ask your child to show you his or her homework and explain his or her thinking. Encourage your child to check his or her work and answer the question, "Does this answer all the questions in the assignment and make sense?"

Identify skills that your child may be struggling with.

Apart from the report card, when your child shares a graded assignment, review any questions that your child missed. Use all errors as opportunities to review and learn. Reward your child's willingness to learn from mistakes.

Let the teacher know if your child is struggling (or crying) every night over assignments.

Ask for help early if you see signs of frustration or struggle. It's much easier to keep up with class than to have to chase after the class. Write a note and let the teacher know, "My child didn’t understand x, y, z. What are our options?" (Don’t do the homework for your child. The teacher will never know there's an issue, and you’ll unintentionally create even bigger struggles later in the year.)

Attend parent/teacher conferences.

Ask: "Do you see any red flags or areas where my child is struggling?" Gather as much info as you can, and discuss your options.

Avoid saying, "Here's how you should be doing it," and jumping in to try to teach.

This is a fast track to tears, frustration and "That’s not how my teacher is teaching it!" Instead, position it as, "I want to learn how you're learning. This looks interesting. Can you show this to me?"

When your child gets stuck on a problem, don't solve it for him or her. Instead, ask: "What is the problem asking? Have you seen similar problems before? Are there some things you could try?" The best role you can play is to listen and learn from your child.

Never criticize the way a teacher is teaching content in front of your child.

Instead, ask the teacher why he or she is approaching it that way. Most likely, the approach your child is learning will make another concept or class easier down the line. Middle school math teachers for example, are setting the groundwork for higher-level math, even if it feels different than the memorization techniques you may have learned as a kid.

Need More Support?
To explore our proven Homework Help, Personalized Tutoring or Study Skills programs, reach out to your local Sylvan center today. We'd love to help!