Why I Don’t Care About My Kids’ Report Cards


I had one goal during my later years of college: to earn a coveted 4.0 mug, a status symbol in my mind. Every term, the school gave out coffee mugs to students who earned a 4.0-grade point average. Every term, I wanted one.

I never got it. In every semester from that point on, I earned all A’s… and exactly one of those A’s would always be an A-, knocking me out of the running for the mug. (One semester it was an A- in photography, the course I had chosen for a “fun” elective, which turned out to be the opposite of fun and instead became a study in my deficient dexterity in regards to developing film). For six semesters straight, I was 3.997 girl. A “B” would have been less insulting.

A year after I graduated, I found and bought myself a 4.0 mug at Goodwill. And I used it a couple times. It recently spent the end of its rarely-used life as a container in which to serve my children oatmeal when all the bowls were dirty, and finally met its inevitable demise when it broke in the dishwasher. I threw it away without any regret.

It meant so much at the time, but I don’t really care anymore.

I went to grad school and managed to break the A- curse. I got to see a 4.0 a few semesters, though by that point no one was giving out mugs. I studied education. I would have stayed forever if they’d let me. I say all this to emphasize the fact that I loved learning, still do, and I dedicated a good portion of my life to learning about learning.

So it’s within the context of all of that, maybe because of all of that, that I say I really don’t care about my kids’ report cards.

To be fair, I waited for report card day with a sense of curiosity and anticipation that I can only assume is leftover from those days of wanting a 4.0 and an accompanying mug. I was also eager to read the comments, because comments are always the most fun and potentially entertaining part. I was super curious to see what they would say.

My anticipation was met with disappointment. The only comments were generic, regarding upcoming parent/teacher conferences. The report cards themselves were, surprisingly, the opposite of what I anticipated for each child. Not in terms of good or bad, but in terms of which kid they applied to.

I was befuddled. Had their names been accidentally switched in the system? Because the report cards read as if each kid’s ratings were meant for the opposite kid.

Reading them, the thing that I already knew, but likely hesitated to admit, became even more clear. None of this means anything at all.

I say that with sincere appreciation and love for my children’s teachers and the immense amount of work they do both academically and emotionally. Not to mention dealing with the ceaseless demands of my children, but also with countless others. To be fair, I don’t think report cards are an accurate representation of them, either.  

It’s probably not surprising, but whittling people down to a few marks on the paper actually misses the mark in a lot of areas. It provides an incomplete and often inaccurate picture. Report cards are certainly not the definitive measurement of learning that we often expect them to be.

Seeing my kids’ report cards reinforced some key things for me. It helped me put their grades in perspective and not take them too seriously.

Report cards measure a child’s progress compared to their grade level.

I’ll openly admit I don’t know a ton about grade level standards. It’s not my area of expertise, it’s not my job, and to be honest I don’t really care. I do know that a good portion of my kids’ kindergarten curriculum is the same as what I learned in first grade. I also know that for as much as the world has changed since then, the pace of child development hasn’t changed. So I question the appropriateness of “grade level” in general, and I question its appropriateness when applied to children en masse.

Learning to read is, after all, a “developmental” skill, much like walking and talking and hopping on one foot. And I know that my same age, but still very different, children accomplished all of those tasks on their own timetable, and never at the same time. Similarly, I was a late talker and an early reader while my brother was an early talker and a later reader. Yet we both did, in our own time, talk and read.

Young boy reading on couch. His shirt says "we are the future."

Report cards don’t measure a child’s progress compared to themselves.

As a parent, that’s where I want my focus to be. I want to focus on my kids’ personal growth and progress, not on whether or not they meet the standards created by someone who has never met them, and certainly not on whether they meet those standards based on someone else’s deadlines.

The things my kids have learned since entering kindergarten regularly astound me. I’ve watched their scribbles turn into letters, that turn into words. I’ve watched my kid actually begin reading, which for someone who loves to read is just about the greatest thing ever. I’ve watched a kid I expected to hate school, insist on playing school every night. I’ve seen them tucking an ever-increasing catalog of routines, songs, and poems into their little brains like squirrels hoarding acorns. I’ve watched sweet little friendships blossom. Most surprisingly, I’ve watched my kids learn to trust and navigate a world outside of our house, on their own.

All of that stuff — that’s what matters. It is huge and meaningful and important. It will never be reflected on a report card, because grades alone can never show this side. They don’t take into account the challenges that make a kid’s progress meaningful. They don’t look at what it took a kid to get where they are. As a result, they don’t do much for me. They don’t tell me the things I want to know.

What I really want to know is how my child compares to my child.

I want to know about my kid’s specific progress compared to where she was. How has he grown? What works for her? What are the areas where he has made progress? And can we please just stop for a minute and celebrate all of this progress because it feels like it is a lot?

Maybe it’s not the type of progress that will ever earn a free kids’ meal at Cane’s or a free personal pizza at Pizza Hut (or for the mature, grown-up adults in the room, a free coffee mug). But regardless of what a report card says, I see the evidence of their learning and growth every day. I don’t need a paper to tell me it’s happening or to measure it.

I’ll probably always read it with anticipation and curiosity, but I want to take it with a grain or a whole shaker of salt, keeping in mind it is one tool of measurement. It’s not the only evidence of learning, and it’s not my job to worry or stress about what it says, or even to take it at face value. It’s my job to celebrate, to watch, and to let them surprise and delight me with every new thing they learn and skill that they master.

child copying words from a whiteboard. the whiteboard says "I like dogs. I like dog poop." the child wrote "poop".
Literacy: the gift that keeps on giving.


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Sarah Hyatt
Sarah has lived in the Columbus area her entire life, despite spending winters longing for tropical beaches. She always knew she wanted to be a mom, so once she had the space, Sarah chose to become a foster parent, a decision that led to meeting and eventually adopting the greatest kids in the world, her now four-year-old boy/girl twins. Together they enjoy exploring playgrounds and parks around central Ohio, having dance parties in the car to Koo Koo Kanga Roo and The Shazzbots, and repeated viewings of Moana.  Sarah somehow completed a master’s in education while her kids were toddlers, though she still isn’t sure how. She previously worked in higher education, however, since becoming a mom her interests have shifted to early childhood, as for her, one of the greatest joys of motherhood has been watching her children play and grow and rediscovering the world through their eyes. Sarah enjoys finding the joy in everyday moments through photography, finding the right words to express feelings and ideas in writing, and finding the most ridiculous items possible at thrift stores. She is a hoarder of information as evidenced by her lengthy library reserve list, though more often than not all her library books are returned unread -- the siren call of Netflix is too strong.