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It’s hard to believe, but we’re already about a quarter of the way through the 2020-21 school year. At this point, you’ve been watching your child in their current mode of schooling—whether that’s learning from home, in-person with masks and social distancing, or some hybrid of the two—for a few months. One would think it would be easy to tell how they’re doing, what they’re learning, and where they’re struggling. And yet... can you tell?

Report cards should be coming home soon, but they might look different than other years, and even if they don’t, they might be telling you something different than you’re used to. With all the wacky variables this school year is throwing at us, how do you know if your kids are actually learning anything?


Ask directly. The first and most important way to get a progress update is to consult their teachers. But if you ask a general question (“how is my kid doing?”), you’ll probably get a general answer. One way to get concrete information about your child’s learning is to provide their teachers with EdNavigator’s learning support card, which we’ve modified this year for remote learning. Ask them to fill it out (don’t worry, we promise it won’t take them long!) to give you a clear picture of your child’s progress this year.


Know what they should be learning. We recommend this every year, but it’s even more important this year. Take a look at the grade-level standards for your children so you have a sense of what they should be learning. The National Parent-Teacher Association has some family-friendly guides to standards at every grade, and your state probably publishes something similar on their department of education website. (Here’s Massachusetts’ version, for example.) It’s also really important to know how your school or district is interpreting the standards this year, and whether they’ve made any adjustments to how much material they expect to cover. So go ahead and ask your child’s teacher: “Do you expect to hit all the grade-level standards this year?”


Pay extra attention to participation. “Participation” grades often feel like throwaways in normal years, but this year they’ve taken on added value, in part because getting to a baseline level of participation is just that much harder right now. Teachers are looking closely for clues about how much students are engaging with class: Are students logging into remote lessons and turning on their webcams? Contributing to group conversations? Do they look alert and engaged? Try to gauge these factors by watching your own children in their learning at home, and as we’ve recommended before, take some notes on what you observe, so you have a record if you need to connect with their teachers. Of course, simply participating in class doesn’t mean your kids are learning everything they should be, but it shows important engagement with the learning process.


Read the report card closely. Report cards should be coming home soon, and while a lot of our usual advice for how to read them still stands, there are some key things to look out for this year. Teachers may be under extra pressure to give students grades or ratings in the “progressing” range, even if they’re really struggling. (A lot of students are going to struggle this year, and we may see some amount of throwing-up-of-hands about it.) So it’s important to check what you’re seeing in your child’s work against their overall grades. If they’re getting a B in English language arts, but you’re seeing them struggle to read or think their writing really isn’t up to snuff, be sure to ask the teacher about it. “Let’s wait and see” might sound reassuring in the moment, but the truth is, we can’t afford to wait when it comes to our kids’ learning, especially in a year when so much time has been wasted already. If you think your child isn’t on track to meet those grade-level standards, and their teacher isn’t talking about a plan for helping them get there, it’s better to have that conversation now rather than in April.


Understand the assessments. Your school might well be using different learning assessments than usual—or not assessing students as much, period. Since these results are another useful piece of information to help paint a picture of your child’s progress, find out what kinds of assessments you can expect this year (or what to expect as alternatives).


If you’re not sure, double check. If their grades look good and participation isn’t a problem, but you’re still not sure they’re making true progress, have your kids try these handy Readiness Checks from Learning Heroes. This will give you a good sense of where your kids are with key math and reading skills/ Start with their current grade and see how they do, then move up or down from there as needed.

“If you think your child isn’t on track to meet those grade-level standards, and their teacher isn’t talking about a plan for helping them get there, it’s better to have that conversation now rather than in April.”

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