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What should I be looking for on my child's report card?

As report card month gets under way across the country, we asked an anonymous panel of four public and private school teachers from Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto for the inside track on what report card lingo means - and when to care.

Calgary kindergarten teacher who has taught for 13 years, 11 in French immersion

Although kindergarten is an academic year, social development is very important. Look for comments relating to socialization, attention to instruction, independence and the ability to cope with transitions in a day. It's also good to look for what your child's teacher is doing to support any areas your child is struggling with.

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Read the report card with your child: It is theirs and they can be proud of it and take ownership of their learning.

Ottawa high-school teacher who has also taught elementary school in her 21 years of teaching

Report cards can be confusing: There are number grades, learning skill grades and anecdotal comments. The concept of learning skills can be confusing because teachers interpret these skills differently. So you should always follow up and meet your child's teachers to ensure you are understanding exactly what they are intending with these grades.

In terms of the actual mark, check to see if your child is above or below the class average. A math mark of 71 in a class where the average is 67 means something different than in a class where the average is 82.

The anecdotal comments are key. Words and terms such as "unfocused," "underachieving," "not working to potential" and "has difficulty staying on task" are red flags. They may indicate anything from a poor attitude to something more serious such as a learning difference that may need attention. Nothing, though, replaces meeting your child's teachers face to face.

Toronto high-school teacher who has taught for 10 years.

Look at the comments, but take them with a big grain of salt - they may be the least important part of the report card. High-school report card comments are generic and seldom express the nuanced, multi-layered observation that a teacher may have made about a student during the school year.

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We aren't permitted to write our own. We do the best we can with what we are given, but if they are confusing or seem silly - now you know why. Go to a parent-teacher interview to chat with your child's teacher and find out what they really think - in their own words.

Toronto high-school teacher who has taught for five years.

In high school, parents generally focus on the grade only and rarely look at the comments or learning skills. Learning skills are a more holistic perspective and allow teachers to express to parents concerns about a student's initiative, responsibility, collaboration, organization skills, ability to self-regulate and independent work.

Learning skills can tell parents that their child is not focusing in class, has difficulty completing work or is not taking responsibility for his or her actions - all skills that are critical for success in the future.

Midterm reports can be deceiving. Your child may have an artificially high mark or it may be too low depending on the number of assessments that have been done.

- As told to Tralee Pearce

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Do you have questions for our teacher's panel? Send them to life@globeandmail.com

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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