December 19, 2023
When I was in grade school, there were a few things that I knew were certainties. I was certain P.E. (physical education) class would be the highlight of my week; I was certain the school lunch would not be what I wanted; I was certain every girl I had a crush on felt the same (that’s how I remember it!); and above all else, I was certain Report Card Day was looming. You see, growing up as a millennial it had been instilled in me by parents of a bygone generation, that the report card was the standard. It was the beginning and the end. It maintained whether I was a genius or knew absolutely nothing. It told the full story of my performance — or did it?
I consider myself fortunate, my parents were invested in knowing exactly how well I was doing in school. But they relied heavily on a single barometer of my educational achievement, and we all assumed that would give the full scope of what I had learned. That’s why when I read a recent Gallup-Learning Heroes report, examining parents’ perception of their children’s academic performance, it was obvious the way we understand student performance had evolved.
The study, B-flation: How Good Grades Can Sideline Parents, found that while nearly eight in 10 U.S. parents say their child is receiving mostly B’s or better and almost nine in 10 believe their child is at or above grade level in reading and math, they’re likely missing the complete picture of their child’s academic performance. I was intrigued. I wanted to know more about the role of the report card now, and why understanding this parent perception gap was important.
Gallup, a global research and consulting firm, partnered with Learning Heroes, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping parents support their children’s educational and developmental success, to conduct a Gallup Panel, reporting on a representative sample of nearly 2,000 parents of K-12 public school students nationwide. These parents shared their aspirations, their experiences with and perceptions of their children’s progress, their process for getting information from and engaging with their child’s school, and their hopes and worries for the future.
“We're just as focused today on the report card as our parents were,” said David Park, senior vice president of strategy and communications at Learning Heroes. “But it is important that report cards are one of several measures that parents and guardians look at in order to have a more holistic understanding of where their child excels and where they may need some additional support.
At least for me, that was the thing, as Park noted, report cards “are one of several” ways parents can understand how their child is performing. It’s more than grades.
In fact, the implications of effectively evaluating what our kids truly know in areas like reading and math extend far beyond their K-12 education. As the future workforce, our kid’s academic achievement matters for employers nationally, and ultimately, in our ability to compete globally.
For instance, take the recent international assessment which magnified the finding that there had been a steady decline in math and reading scores for 15-year-old students from 2018 to 2022. And it’s been well documented the role a global pandemic played in student learning loss during that time.
“The U.S. ranked 28th out of 37 industrialized democracies,” said Park. “So, you think about that in terms of our future workforce. If America were a job seeker who ranked 28 out of 37, I don't think we'd hire them.”
It’s true, early success in education can have far reaching implications for those kids who will eventually be adults, and enter the workforce. In general, good grades are, well, good. But what if there were areas that were helpful for parents to have awareness to address early? Teachers often have additional information like class participation, graded assignments, assessments, knowing whether they’re performing at grade level, and a host of other important performance measurements. Wouldn’t it be beneficial for parents to understand this too?
As we see in the Gallup-Learning Heroes report, for most parents, perception is not reality — it’s possible there’s much more behind the report card. The report outlines some key actions that can be taken to understand student progress. Parents and teachers can partner throughout the year and communicate more frequently with each other, so parents have a clear understanding of their child’s academic progress and where they may need help.
“When parents know more about their child's progress, when they're truly partnering with their child's teacher all around learning and well-being, the opportunities are endless,” Park said.
Educators can also make it easier for parents to connect to multiple measures of achievement in addition to report cards, like teacher observations or information about standardized test scores. Park made it clear that when parents are made aware something needs to be addressed with their child’s education, they take action. There’s an opportunity to use some of the concerning data we’ve recently seen on academic achievement to build a stronger, more resilient system for our kids. Collectively, educators, families, policymakers, and the business community have a role to play in prioritizing academic success.
It's been a long time since I nervously awaited my fate in a report card, and I don’t doubt that anxiety still exists for millions of students across the country. I can only imagine the equally stressful anxiety for parents finding out they didn’t know what they thought they knew about their child’s academic achievement. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say we’re at a moment in time that calls for a sense of urgency in making sure we get this right, and parents deserve having certainty that their kids are set up to be successful now and in the future.