Tips for Parents | Navigating Progress Reports

Nov 8, 2019

“It was fine.”


“We didn’t really do anything.”


“It was okay, I guess.”


Students can be notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to sharing details of the school day. It can be hard for parents to glean how things are really going: did your second grader eat his or her entire lunch? Is your middle schooler making new friends in a bigger, more intimidating school? Was signing up for two AP classes this year a mistake for your varsity soccer player? If your child is also hesitant to show homework or ask for help with assignments, mid-marking period progress reports can be jarring if he or she isn’t performing as well as you’d hoped or expected.


Interpreting the Progress Report

Before you can come up with a solution, you’ll need to figure out what the problem is. Read through the progress report and look for keywords and phrases such as “difficulty with” or “inadequate progress.” Note what subjects seem to be the hardest for your child and consider what factors may be at play. Is he struggling in all subjects due to trouble adjusting to a new school routine? Is her math grade outstanding while she received unsatisfactory marks in Social Studies? Are any comments or grades particularly surprising (i.e., your third grader is struggling to keep up in Language Arts when he or she was previously reading at or above grade level)?


Meet With Your Child’s Teacher

Make note of any questions or concerns you have, and request a meeting with your child’s teacher. She will be able to answer your questions and offer feedback on what’s happening in the classroom — and the best ways to help your child be successful. Ask if there’s anything you can be doing at home, or if there are any resources available to you. It can also be helpful to let your child know you’ll be talking to the teacher, acknowledge any successes so far this year, and emphasize that you want to help make things easier.

“Mrs. Jones mentioned how respectful you are to your classmates, and I’m so proud of you for that! She also shared that you’re having trouble completing your science lab reports. I’m going to meet with her to see if there’s anything we can do together to make those easier. Do you have any ideas?” Involving your child and asking her for ideas may make it easier for her to be more candid about how school is going or to tell you if there’s something she’s specifically struggling with. This may also help to lessen any anxiety or stress she’s feeling about her school performance or struggles.


Red Flags to Watch For

There are sometimes circumstantial events that can make the first marking period difficult for a student. Has he transitioned from elementary school to middle school? Are there major familial changes (i.e., divorce, death in the family, moving to a new home)? Is she having trouble maintaining friendships? While those things can be contributing factors to poor grades, it’s also important to determine if there’s an underlying weakness that’s keeping your child from reaching his or her potential.


If a progress report shows poor performance in the areas of language arts and spelling, your child may be suffering from an underlying weakness in language processing skills. A cause of difficulty in establishing sight words and contextual fluency is difficulty in visualizing letters in words. This is called weak symbol imagery—the ability to create mental imagery for sounds and letters within words. A significant number of students have difficulty with rapidly perceiving sounds in words and are slow to self-correct their reading errors. This causes weakness in:


  • Memorizing sight words
  • Sounding out words
  • Orthographic awareness
  • Phonemic awareness
  • Contextual reading fluency
  • Orthographic spelling

If your student is having difficulty with science, history/social studies, math, writing, and homework, he or she may have weak concept imagery—the ability to create an imagined or imaged gestalt (whole) from language. This weakness causes individuals to get only “parts” of information they read or hear, but not the whole. It’s important to note that weak decoding skills can also affect grades in subjects that require a lot of reading. Weak concept imagery causes weakness in:


  • Reading comprehension
  • Listening comprehension
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Following directions
  • Memory
  • Oral language expression
  • Written language expression

These underlying sensory-cognitive functions must be intact in order for your child to achieve academic success. If not, there will be a breakdown in reading and language comprehension skills, resulting in frustration, stress, and poor grades on progress reports.


This family’s experience sheds light on some of the common myths about learning how to read:


Don’t Wait to Get Help

It can be tempting to hope that reading or comprehension issues will work themselves out, but for students with a weakness in symbol or concept imagery, waiting often means more time for them to struggle and fall further behind. 


Our learning ability evaluation can determine the specific areas of strength and weakness for your child. From there, we offer an individualized plan, based on our research-validated instruction, that’s best suited to your child for closing the gap or just making learning easier. 


Contact your local Learning Center for more information about what might be causing poor grades on your child’s progress report and how we can help.

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