Grades Don’t Matter!   How to Read and Interpret Report Cards for Your Child on a 504 Plan or IEP


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A few weeks ago, I met with my daughter’s teacher to discuss some ways to better help her with her math homework.  If you are raising kids in the public school system right now, you know that the way kids are learning their fundamental academic skills have changed dramatically.   Namely math. I was never a strong math student myself and so the only way I truly knew how to help her with her studies was to simply teach her the way I had learned it.  And when adding and subtracting numbers, you simply regroup when needed. However, math now is very different. As if it weren’t complicated enough, now it’s imperative for children to understand how numbers work and what the different numbers in an equation mean before they even get to learn the algorithm (or borrowing the 1 technique).  When I was growing up, the emphasis was on achieving the good grades, regardless of whether you truly understood the concept of what you were learning. Grades were the very thing by which you were measured; they determined if you could continue engaging in extracurricular activities, whether or not you were accepted into honors programs, if and what kind of college you were accepted to, and in many households, what fun rewards you earned.

But what if we have been wrong about grades?  What if they really don’t matter at all? I will testify that I managed great grades throughout my entire academic career, and even though I’ve sustained an A average, even through graduate school, I cannot say I have an exciting career that reflects how hard I studied in school.  My GPA means nothing if you are unemployed. Many parents still put high emphasis on how well their child performs in school. If you are on social media no doubt you’ve been subjected to the proud posts of how their child, yet again, made the honor roll, or earned straight A’s on his or her report card.  This is no easy feat, and parents have a right to be proud of this endeavor. Heck, my dad bragged on me and my academic performance to anyone with ears for years. However, in today’s ever-complicated society, and with the acknowledgement and implementation of accommodations within general education classrooms, we have to be willing to look elsewhere, somewhere beyond grades, to truly understand how a child is learning, what he or she has learned, and in what ways can he or she learn best.  And with that, grades cannot continue to be only thing that makes that determination anymore.

You know this to be especially true if your child has a diagnosis.  Our lives with our differently-abled children are unique to those of our peers with typically-developing children.  And as such, we have to look at everything through a different lens. Report cards are an example and the grades we see on them are just a snippet as to how our child is progressing in class.  Here are some ways you can make better sense of your child’s grades on their report card if he or she is on a 504 plan or an IEP.

1.       First read thoroughly by yourself, highlighting all the ways your child has improved or stayed the same.  Learn to interpret the report card itself, which used to be an easy feat, but many school systems have unique ways of grading.  For example, our kids go to school in the District of Columbia. DCPS has a very unique grading system for which you need a template to fully understand where your child should be according to the standards set forth by the District.  Be comfortable with reading the document and make notes of things you have questions about, especially if it seems to be in conflict to what the IEP or 504 states.

2.       Be familiar with your child’s documentation.  I cannot stress this enough. It’s hard to know if your child is being graded fairly if you don’t even know what their documentation calls for.  In DCPS, there are some standards that point out the ability to clearly communicate.  Well, because my son has an IEP for his documented expressive language disorder, he cannot be held to those same standards as a typically-developing child.  Knowing what your child’s documentation states and what accommodations should be provided can give you an idea as to whether that documentation is being honored appropriately within the general education setting.

3.       Read report card in conjunction with the IEP progress report.  When your child brings home his or her report card, there should be an accompanying IEP progress report.  This progress report will examine each goal the IEP team developed during the annual meeting. It will then analyze the child’s performance in meeting this goal.  For example, if you have some math goals for your child as stated on the IEP, and the report card reflects an average or an approaching average grade for that subject area, the progress report can better explain exactly how the child is performing according to those goals.  Progress reports are a great tool that measures your child against themselves, not some preconceived standards that have been developed for typically-developing children.

4.      Review the report card with your child.  After you have reviewed the document on your own, include your child in the conversation.  The report card by itself may not be a typically report that many might frame and hang on the wall, but all of our children are gifted and smart in their own way and they deserved to be celebrated for what they have been able to accomplish during that period.  Sit with them and highlight all the ways they have improved and even stayed the same. Celebrate if they haven’t regressed and praise them especially, for getting a good grade in a subject they aren’t typically confident in. Allow them insight on what they have accomplished and let them have a say in how they can improve.  Having this one-on-one time is crucial for letting your child know that you have their back and that you are confident in their ability to be successful, even when the report card might say otherwise.

Report cards are important.  But they can no longer be the only thing that determines how smart and capable our children are.  As we have seen time and time again, grades are important, but they are not the be all and end all of our children’s futures.  If we use other ways to celebrate our children’s learning abilities, and celebrate what truly makes them happy, then we allow ourselves to be better parents, and advocates, for our children.


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