November typically means parent teacher conferences and the first report card of the year. Much to the chagrin of children’s pockets, the days of money for A’s and B’s have come to an end. Although many schools already switched to standardized report cards, the new Common Core shift will lead to even more generalized use. (Not sure what Common Core is? Check out Is Common Core a Good Thing?)

These report cards break down the subject standards into their basic categories. The layout may differ in terminology but every version uses similar formats. Teachers assign a number or letter for your student, representing where they are at in terms of that trimester of their grade level. Here are some examples of the terminology your school might use in terms of grading:

Above Grade Level Advanced Exceeds 4
At Grade Level Proficient Proficient 3
Approaching Grade Level Basic Developing 2
Below Grade Level Below Basic Beginning 1


Now let’s talk about what this type of report means for you …

The Good

It only makes sense for teaching, evaluation, and reporting to streamline. If teachers dig deeper into the content standards, their tests should reflect that learning. Naturally, the most effective report card should reflect those tests and inform continued progress.  This format holds teachers accountable to evaluate each standard specifically, insuring that your student will not fall through the cracks in any area. As parents, standardize report cards allow you to know significantly more about where your child stands instructionally. “At grade level” in Reading Comprehension, Word Analysis, and Literary Analysis tells you more than an “A” in Reading. You can be confident that your child grasps the material required of all students in the same grade.

The Bad

This conversion requires a change in your perception. A hard working, conscientious student that struggles in a particular subject could receive APPROACHING or BELOW grade level, which might traditionally be considered a “bad” grade. Another student that doesn’t apply themselves but has a natural ability might receive an ABOVE grade level without having turned in any of their assignments. Because of this, the other categories on the report card for citizenship and work habits become increasingly important for parents as they reflect effort students put into their classwork.

The Ugly

Teachers need to adjust, too. While the reporting method may standardize, there is no way to standardize teachers’ opinions. Some of them can hang back when applying a new grading system. If they choose to simply rename an “A” as ABOVE grade level, a “B” as AT grade level, and so on, the true meaning of those grades changes.  Levels should be determined by multiple at-standard assessments based on material covered. Ask your teacher how your child’s grades were determined. If done properly, he or she should be able to show you several examples of work demonstrating mastery or a need for more instruction.

Overall, standardized report cards can add valuable information to the dialogue between home and school. As with any change, it will take time to adjust.  Remember you can always ask questions of your teacher and administrators until you feel more comfortable with this new format.