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Are Our Kids Ready for the New School Year?

It’s back to school time and parents and students everywhere are getting ready!  New clothes? Check. New backpack? Check. School supplies? Check. Our kids are ready with all the materials they need but are they ready academically?  And how do parents know if they are prepared for the next school year?

A 2017 survey conducted by Learning Heroes revealed that 90% of parents believe that their child is performing at or even above grade level.  That parental confidence is wonderful, but for the most part, teachers don’t share that optimistic belief, and it doesn’t reflect where students are actually performing.  The same study found that only 39% of teachers believe that their students are on grade level at the beginning of the school year. Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) support teacher’s perception, showing in 2015 that only 36% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders were proficient in reading, and only 40% of 4th graders and 33% of 8th graders proficient in math.

Why the perception gap between parents and teachers?

As a parent, grandparent, and veteran teacher of over 30 years the gap does not surprise me.  There are two main reasons parents might be overly confident in their child’s academic readiness for the coming year:

Parents rely heavily on report card grades to assess their child’s progress in school.  While grades are important, letter grades on report cards don’t always give an accurate picture of student mastery of core content.  Teachers often include “character” grades to help motivate those students who work hard and to encourage struggling students to keep trying. Character grades can include class participation, homework completion and extra credit. The problem with these grades is that they can inadvertently inflate student performance, while hiding serious academic gaps. Students may be passing the course but are still not mastering the core concepts or meeting the expectations of the grade level.

Another factor contributing to this disconnect is many parents are not familiar with what is required of students with today’s higher college and career ready standards. Our math classes growing up looked very different from today’s classes. Many of us could be successful with rote memorization and a basic knowledge of mathematical procedures and formulas. Today’s students need to show understanding, know how to apply reasoning skills and logic, and solve multi-step problems. A parent may falsely believe that his or her child is ready for the next grade based on just knowledge of mathematical procedures and facts alone, which is not the case. The same is true with English/language arts. Students need to do more than read for basic comprehension and memorize vocabulary. They need to compare, make arguments, think critically, write, citing evidence to back up their arguments.  Today’s math and ELA classes are more complex to help prepare our kids for a more complex world.

So what can parents do to close the perception gap?

As a parent, I know that the more information I have, the better I’m able to help my child, so establishing communication with your child’s teacher is critical.  Ask questions – ask for resources to help your child with difficult concepts – and above all, ask for honesty about your child’s performance.

At home, observe your child as he or she completes assignments at home. What subjects does he struggle with? When does she get frustrated easily and quit trying? Encourage effort and find ways to connect what is being learning in school with everyday life.

Another helpful new tool to assess your child’s progress was launched recently by the non-profit parent organization, Learning Heroes.  The tool is called The Readiness Check.  Parents can give their child a simple 5 question quiz in reading and math and instantly get results that will let them know how ready their child is for the next grade. You can find the Readiness Check at https://bealearninghero.org/readiness-check/.

All parents want the best for their kids and all teachers want their students to succeed.  It is important that we work together to close the perception gap so that our students not only get good grades but also master the important skills they will need for college and career.  With solid information and good communication we can more confidently say that our kids are ready for the new school year!

Cindy Evarts is a math and English Language Arts teacher teacher at Martinsburg South Middle School in Martinsburg, West Virginia. She has been teaching for more than 30 years in classrooms ranging from pre-school to 8th grade. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and the 2014 winner of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.