Ideally, report cards meaningfully reflect academic achievement and potential. Yet, this isn’t always the case. “A’s” and “B’s” can have very different meanings from one child to another, depending on such factors like the “track” they are on (Regular, Honors etc.), as well as the grading practices of their school.

Why does this matter? Because if grades are not truly credible then “grade bubbles” can be formed. Unfortunately, “bubbles” tend to burst and when this happens it is often accompanied by dashed hopes, frustrations, and blame finding all around. It’s especially hard for a child that has been under an illusion that they are a “good student” only to find out that they have been “set up for a big letdown.” For instance, imagine the feelings of a child learning too late that they lack the academic skills necessary to pursue their dream of becoming a veterinarian. Sadly, over-protecting a child’s self-image often will lead to damaging it in the long run.

Signs of a possible problem include:

  • In comparison to report card grades, performance on standardized tests is significantly lower. Explaining this away as “they just don’t test well” often does more harm than good
  • Grades artificially pulled up by extra credit assignments, volunteer jobs, good behavior, handing in homework on time, or other non-academic activities. Although “effort” is certainly commendable, it is not helpful to confuse this with skill level.
  • Poor independent study skills, over-reliance on “memorizing”
  • Parents and/or tutors doing too much of the work
  • Hardly ever, or never, seeing the child show any intrinsic interest in learning for learning’s sake
  • A “low bar” for attaining high report card grades exists; this is also known as “grade inflation.” Sometimes this practice may be rationalized as a method for increasing student’s self-esteem or reflects an unwritten philosophy of not “rocking the boat” by “discomforting” either students or parents
  • Cheating. No one likes to think that their child is devious, but the fact is that technology generates ever more opportunities for cheaters prospering, at least temporarily, e.g. smartphones, which allow students to surreptitiously look up answers. As an eye-opener, just ask your son or daughter if they’ve ever observed “anyone else” cheating

If you think there is a problem in this area, the question facing parents then becomes, what can I do? The first priority is determining whether or not your child’s report cards grades are “for real,” followed by, if necessary, taking corrective action.

Bringing concerns about seeming discrepancies between report card grades and their observations as parents to the attention of their child’s teachers or administrators can often be quite helpful. Further, to gather as much objective information as possible, parents can also obtain an independent evaluation of their child’s academic skills and intellectual profile from a qualified practitioner. Sometimes, this process will result in a previously missed diagnosis that can be effectively addressed, like a specific learning or processing problem. Depending on test findings and dialog with the educators, they can then make sure their child is in the best fitting classes, or school for that matter. They can also seek appropriate interventions ranging from sitting closer to the teacher to individualized accommodations or private tutoring.

As difficult as it might be, coming to terms with a child’s realistic academic level often creates rather than limits opportunities, both for parents to provide more meaningful support and guidance and for children to pursue attainable scholastic goals. Better to gradually and gently deflate a “grade bubble” now than have to pick up the pieces when it inevitably ruptures.


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