Parent Perception Of Student Success Is Skewed

What parents think they know about their child’s performance in school is not always accurate. (Report card on an oak desk/ iStockphoto by Micheal Quirk)

by Aziah Siid

For many parents, report cards provide the best indicator of their child’s progress in school. Generations of parents and guardians have been taught to equate student achievement to a letter grade, or percentage, but additional information not reflected on a report card can paint a fuller picture. 

Although report cards remain the go-to method of checking student progress, new research from Gallup and an educational nonprofit called Learning Heroes indicate these progress reports don’t tell the full story of how young scholars are doing in classes, or whether they’re performing at the appropriate grade level. 

The research, compiled in a report called “B-flation: How Good Grades Can Sideline Parents,” finds that parents’ perception of their students’ grade level is often skewed, as many parents believe their child is on grade level when they are not. 

The new research reveals a wide chasm between parental perception and student performance.  The report finds that “nearly eight in 10 U.S. parents (79%) 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 (88%) and math (89%).” Despite this perception, other progress measures, including standardized test scores, reveal that only a minority of students — roughly less than half — are performing at the appropriate grade level.

The study surveyed nearly 2,000 parents of K-12 students nationwide, learning about their experiences and perceptions of their children’s progress, how they get information from and engage with their child’s school, and their hopes and worries for the future. 

‘Report Cards Don’t Tell The Full Story’

Researchers found that the majority of parents, 64% to be exact, say report cards are an important measure to know whether their child is at grade level, potentially leading many parents to equate good grades with grade-level achievement. 

However, report cards are only one source of information on academic progress and don’t always measure other factors that indicate student achievement — including attendance and participation. 

In addition to report cards, 1 in 5 parents say standardized tests are among the top three sources of information they find most helpful in determining whether their child is at grade level.  

David Park, senior vice president of Learning Heroes, began looking into parents’ perceptions of their child’s performance in 2016, and found a disconnect between the information parents should be looking for and what they actually know. 

“If parents and guardians don’t have a holistic understanding of where their children are in reading and math, then they may not be getting the support that their child needs in that area,” Park tells Word In Black. While 89% of parents of all racial and ethnic backgrounds report their child is performing at or above grade level in math, less than one-quarter (15%) of Black fourth graders score as proficient or better in math. 

Resources Affect Achievement 

Park sees three pressing issues: inadequate communication from schools, the investments parents make in their child’s learning, and the lack of essential resources that children need outside of the class. 

“There are parents who have been very invested in their child’s education, engaged in their child’s education well before the pandemic,” Park says. “They’ve advocated effectively for their child’s education, and yet, they unfortunately have not had the tools and resources and information they need about their child’s performance”

Park suggests parents look beyond report cards and individual exam scores to consider attendance and other issues, and he says that schools should restructure parent-teacher conferences, make more positive phone calls home, and create new methods to give parents all the information they need for a well-rounded understanding of where their children are. 

“There needs to be more support in these communities, needs to be more of a focus on in-school tutoring, more of a focus on resources in math and reading,” Park says. “While all parents of all racial and ethnic backgrounds reported a high likelihood of taking action, Black parents were significantly more likely to say that they would take action across the board, if they thought there was a problem.”

Park says families and educators should team up on behalf of each child’s learning and well being, not only at the beginning of the year, but even before the school year to get to know the child and the child’s family to understand what will work for them. That would create a trusting relationship with several future check-in points, including the possibility of  home visits.