Researchers: Report Cards Unclear about Students Knowledge, Learning

    21 November 2023

    A recent opinion study says a big majority of parents in the United States believe their child is performing at grade level in school. However, standardized tests show far fewer students are on track.

    Polling company Gallup and the nonprofit group Learning Heroes released the public opinion poll this month.

    Report cards show students' school performance. Parents depend on them to understand their child's progress. But report cards do not show all of a student's performance, researchers say. Without more knowledge about their child's learning, parents might not seek extra support for their children if it is needed.

    FILE - Students work in the library during homeroom at D.H.H. Lengel Middle School in Pottsville, Pa., March 15, 2022. (Lindsey Shuey/Republican-Herald via AP, File)
    FILE - Students work in the library during homeroom at D.H.H. Lengel Middle School in Pottsville, Pa., March 15, 2022. (Lindsey Shuey/Republican-Herald via AP, File)

    Bibb Hubbard is the founder and president of Learning Heroes, based in Arlington, Virginia. Report cards are "the number one indicator that parents turn to to understand that their child is on grade level, yet a grade does not equal grade-level mastery. But nobody's told parents that."

    In the Gallup poll, 88 percent of parents believed their child was on grade level in reading, and 89 percent of parents believed their child was on grade level in math. However, a federal survey of school officials said half of all U.S. students started the last school year behind grade level in at least one subject.

    One report examined grade point averages and test scores in the state of Washington over the past 10 years. Researchers found grades increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many school systems had eased their grading policies because of the difficulties students were experiencing.

    Some of those policies could still be in place, masking the lack of learning that is showing up in standardized tests, but not in grades, said Dan Goldhaber. He is a co-author of the report and the director of the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, in Arlington, Virginia.

    School systems across the U.S. have spent federal aid money from the COVID-19 crisis on programs to get students back on track. For example, school systems have introduced more tutoring and summer academic programs. But Goldhaber said fewer students attended these programs than the system had planned.

    For programs like summer school or online tutoring, the family chooses whether to participate. "What we see is that it's only a fraction of the students that are invited or eligible that are actually participating," he said.

    The Gallup poll findings suggest that parents might not know they could be taking action to help their child's school performance.

    The poll involved more than 2,000 parents of students from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Half the respondents said they have discussed their child's academic progress with a teacher. Among parents who know their child is behind grade level in math, the percentage greatly increases: 74 percent have spoken with a teacher.

    Report cards do not give enough information, said Sarah Carpenter. She is director of The Memphis Lift, an education activist group in Tennessee.

    "A report card is really tricky in our opinion, because you're just looking at A's and B's and C's," Carpenter said. She said a report card does show whether a child's reading or math level is where it should be and added that parents do not understand this.

    Trenace Dorsey-Hollins is a parent and founder of another activist group Parent Shield Fort Worth in Texas. She said if educators spoke to parents about issues like reading and grading, families would be better able to support their children.

    She said, "Parents don't know what they don't know. So, we don't want them to blame themselves. But now that you have the information, use the information to demand better and ensure that your child and all children get exactly what they need."

    I'm Dan Novak.

    Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.


    Words in This Story

    on track –phrase happening in a way that is expected or planned

    poll — n. a study in which researchers as people their opinions about a subject to learn what people think about it

    indicator –n. a sign that shows the condition or the existence of something

    mastery — n. being able to do something expertly

    grade point average –n. a number that shows the average grade that a student has in school

    mask — v. to hide something

    tutor –v. to teach either one or a small group of students outside of normal class time

    participate — v. to take part in something

    fraction –n. a part of a whole

    eligible — adj. able to join something or receive something