Report Card Warning Signs: Top 5 Things To Look for on Your Student’s Report Card – and what to do about it!

by: Laura Petersen M.A.E.D.

As a former middle school (Willis Jr. High) and high school (Hamilton High School) teacher in Chandler, Arizona, I have filled out my fair share report cards for my math (8th grade – PreCalculus) and AP Psychology students. My mother is also a Kindergarten teacher in California, so I have a lot of experience helping her in the classroom and with filling out younger students’ report cards too.

Here are some things that parents should look out for on their child’s progress reports throughout the year.

I will also make a few suggestions about what to do if you discover any of these “Top 5” items so that your kid can get off on the right foot this semester and beyond.

Top 5 Things To Look For on the Report Card:

#5 Many marks for tardiness and absences

Some progress reports or report cards indicate the number of times the student was late to class or absent from school. There is a significant correlation between being late and absent and lower performance.

If your child is younger and you or your spouse drive him/her to school, make sure that running late is not a norm. A lot of great practice and learning occurs in the beginning of class. Being late is a detriment to the child’s ability to excel.

If your child gets him or herself to school, look extra closely at this information because it may be the first time you are learning about excessive tardies or absences. Do not take lateness and missing school lightly. It can lead to bigger problems academically and otherwise (what are they doing when not where they are supposed to be?) and could be a sign of something else going on.

#4: You see a lot of “0” scores on assignments

Many teachers send home progress sheets that list all graded assignments summarized. I did about once a month. If a teacher does not, you can request a print out at any time that can easily be sent to you via email. Look for zeros! If a student has many “0” scores it is because he/she:

(1) is not turning in the assignments on time,

(2) is not understanding the assignments in order to do them well, or

(3) is detached from the class or school entirely and choosing not to do assignments at all.

In any of these cases, the student needs help. He/she may need extra support with organization, time management, using a planner effectively, understanding what is required, and understanding the material in the class. There could also be a motivational or emotional issue that is indicative of a more serious problem that requires adult intervention.

#3: The report card never seems to arrive…

Some students actively hide (and I have heard of some even forging!) report cards in order to avoid showing their parents and addressing any issues. If you seem to never see a progress report or official report card, follow up with your child’s teachers to learn first-hand what is going on in your child’s academic world.

As a middle school and high school teacher, I sent home quarterly progress reports that had to be signed and returned (in some instances, I discovered several that were not the parents’ actual signatures). Then the school sends official semester report cards in December and May/June.

Additionally, if a student was struggling, I usually had him or her get a signed list of assignments and scores to ensure clear communication with parents. If you never see any of these items, this could be a warning sign.

#2: Drastic grade drops from progress reports

If you recall seeing A’s and B’s on a quarter report and now are seeing C’s, D’s, and maybe even F’s, this is definitely a problem that should be looked into further. Drastic grade changes could be a sign of something very wrong. Some reasons I have seen students’ grades drop significantly in a relatively short period of time include:

–          being bullied or feeling outcast in class

–          feeling like the teacher does not care or understand (even if this is not the case, if the student feels this way, action can and should be taken to fix it)

–          being negatively affected by life changes at home (divorce or death of a close friend or family member, for example)

–          getting overwhelmed by pace and volume of academic and extra-curricular requirements (especially seen in transition years like 7th and 9th grade, and 11th grade when preparing for college entrance)

Grades that go down suddenly are a prime indicator that something is going on and is worth investigation. Sometimes just being heard by a caring adult is all that the student needs to get back on track. Other times more academic support is needed. And still other times, you may discover a child needing some emotional/psychological support from a trained professional.

I have seen all types of situations in my teaching experience and they were often accompanied by suddenly dropping grades.

#1: Comments on report card in addition to the actual letter grade

As a high school teacher, I still used the comments option to communicate with parents when students were doing especially well or poorly. Some of the “watch out for these” and similarly worded comments include:

–          needs improvement

–          does not work to potential

–          distracts self or others

–          does not come prepared

–          working below grade level

–          tardiness and/or absences affecting performance

If a teacher takes the time to add a comment, take heed. It is worth following up with the teacher for more information and clarification.

The more insight you have, the better you can help support your student at home.

But you should not approach the teacher conversation in an adversarial way. The majority of teachers I know truly care about their students and want to help where they can. Approach any conversation with an open mind and “let’s work together to help the student” attitude.

If you found these tips helpful, follow me and other academic writers at

“Ms. P”




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