What a Report Card Tells Us (And What Doesn’t)

Report cards are meant to provide meaningful feedback on your kid's development. Why do they work? And where they fall short?

Let’s talk about one of the most stressful periods for parents during a school year. The time when you receive your kid’s report card

Report cards differ from state to state, from school to school, from grade to grade. However, they all have some things in common. That’s why today we are taking the time to look at what report cards tell us. And what they don’t. 

The Purpose of a Report Card

The purpose of a report card is to provide a written record of your kid’s development. 

Education is similar to health. It is important for a doctor to have a patient’s history so they can determine the course of treatment. Without the history, the treatment can be incorrect and result in even bigger health problems.

Source: Freepik

The same goes for a kid’s teachers. If a child starts falling behind, they can suggest corrections, that will result in a better performance. In order to have empirical evidence that something is wrong with the child’s development, the teacher needs data. Report cards are meant to provide that data and put things in perspective.

So if your kid got good grades in math, but was falling behind in reading development, the teacher can suggest working on your kid’s reading skills more in order to improve.

Without the report cards, the teacher might suggest incorrect improvements or miss the kid’s developmental problems completely.

Why do Report Cards Matter

Report cards provide feedback

Ask any analyst: To make improvements, you need data. And report cards, hated as they are, provide data. Based on report cards, you can see if your kid is doing well in certain subjects, maybe falling behind in others. You can talk to your kid to see why that is and make improvements based on answers. Perhaps the issue is in that the teacher didn’t explain the subject as well as they could have. Or that your kid is being bullied and isn’t able to follow in class. Or maybe that your kid finds the subject boring and isn’t following along. In any case, because you get a report card, you can talk to your kid and find the cause of the problem. Without the report card, that would be more difficult.

Report cards provide teacher’s comment

Grades are very black and white and often do not tell the whole story. That’s why most parents prefer to read the teacher’s comments, which tells them a bit more about their kid’s development. Did the teacher notice anything unusual? Is your kid following the class? Are there any issues that you need to address? Teacher’s comments can provide even better feedback than a simple A, B, C grade.

Report cards provide predictions

Another useful feature of a report card is the prediction of how well a child is prepared for the next term’s challenges. The report card usually says how well your kid handles given materials and makes an assumption of what will happen in the next term.

This part is less important in elementary school and becomes crucial in high school when kids are preparing for universities and the grades are key.

Where do Report Cards Fall Short

Not all men are created equal

In order to provide feedback, report cards need to compare a child’s knowledge at a certain time to what they are supposed to know at that particular time. That comparison is not always fair.

Every child learns at their own pace. And although report cards cover 75% of children who learn at a standard pace, they might wrongfully condemn children who learn a bit faster, and more importantly, a bit slower. Kids who learn a bit more slowly might receive report cards with poor grades, which demotivates them further, sending them into a negative spiral.

Standardized comments

Report cards today are often digitized. To make teacher’s work a bit easier, they come with a list of pre-selected comments that a teacher can choose from. Obviously, these comments are not as detailed as they would be if the teacher had to think about your kid’s development and write a meaningful comment about it. 

Other factors

There are a lot of factors that can influence a report card. Perhaps your kid has been feeling great in the last term and they excel in every subject. Or perhaps they were feeling down for one reason or another and the grades reflect that. Again, it’s important to create a safe environment for your kid, so they can talk to you openly. This will make it much easier to analyze why the school grades are what they are.


All in all, report cards are useful tools that we, as parents, can use to see where our kid shines and where they fall short of expectations. But think of report cards as raw data that needs to be interpreted. Talking to your kid and their teacher is crucial to really understand what the report card is telling us.

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