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My daughter is back in full-time in-person school and I feel that the transition has generally been a smooth one. She’s so happy to be back with her friends and teacher. However, I’m a little worried that she may be behind with her reading and I can’t tell if I should be concerned, or what kind of help she might need.

Muddled in Mississippi

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Elysa Severinghaus

Elysa Severinghaus brings more than a decade of experience in instructional and operational roles to EdNavigator, where she serves as Executive Director in Boston. A former middle school teacher, Elysa speaks Spanish and French and lives in Roslindale with an exceptionally cute canine roommate.

Dear Muddled,

Your question gets at a really important issue that all parents and caregivers face—essentially, how do I know how my child is doing in school, especially (but not exclusively) this year? It seems like it should be easy, but it isn’t. Caregivers tend to be offered a lot of isolated data points (report cards, progress reports, test scores) that are often difficult to interpret as a holistic picture and don’t give a clear indication where their child might need additional support (or additional challenge), and how to access the necessary resources.

Here are 3 key questions caregivers want to be asking their children’s teachers:

1. Is my child on track?

Ask whether your child is performing on grade level and where they’re performing above or below grade level. Many students are compliant in class and do the work that’s asked of them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re mastering the material. And during virtual learning, it’s possible that compliance was given even more weight than usual. As you’re looking at your daughter’s grades and progress reports, be on the lookout for anything that seems like a significant shift. Did her ELA grades suddenly get much better or much worse? That could signal that you’re not getting a complete picture of what’s going on.

2. What evidence from my child’s work shows their current level?

Ask to see any diagnostic or benchmark assessments in reading, if your daughter’s school has done them this year. These are helpful because they’ll give you a sense of her progress throughout the school year (and could be especially essential if your school has opted out of giving traditional report cards during the pandemic). If you do have report cards to look at, make sure you’re clear on how the grades are assigned and weighted—for example, tests and quizzes typically show a student’s independent mastery, but homework and classroom assignments might be graded on completion alone. It’s helpful to know what you’re looking at.

3. What specific skills can my child work on more independently?

Ask for more clarity than just “writing” or “math.” Many parents wonder what’s reasonable to ask teachers for, given how thin teachers are often stretched. The reality is it is already the teacher’s job to isolate skills and areas for focus in order to provide strong instruction to their students—so you’re not really asking for anything “extra.” They should be able to identify particular skills within a growth area for your child. And finally, ask them for specific suggestions for what tools you can use to support your child. Are there particular on or offline resources, activities, or platforms you can use that will align with the work they’re doing in school?

In addition to talking through these three questions with your child’s teacher, put some time on the calendar to reconnect before the end of the school year. This will give you a chance to talk about what progress she’s made since coming back to school in person, and will help you craft a plan for summer learning. You can also use her end-of-year progress to jumpstart conversations with next year’s teacher in the fall.

Finally, if you need more help figuring out how your child is doing and what she needs now to thrive next school year, let us know! A Navigator can help you figure out how to help your daughter get back on track and ready for fall.