By: Sonia Culver, M.A., CCC-SLP
Worried about Parent-Teacher Conferences?
Parent-Teacher conferences can seem overwhelming for parents who have children with academic challenges. As you go into the conferences, look at this as a time for you and the school to form a team approach to devise a plan for your child. With every successful plan comes setting goals, timelines, and accountability.
As many of you know, most elementary schools have gone away from the traditional grading system like A, A-, B+, etc. Instead, schools typically use a rubric to communicate your child’s progress towards the benchmarks set for that grade level. It is important to review your school’s grading scale and familiarize yourself with the core subjects. Below is a common rating system used and the general meaning of each rating. You can find your school district’s rubric on the district website or from your child’s teacher.
E-Exceeds- I show leadership in this area
S-Secure- I am independent in the skills
D-Developing- I am learning in the particular skill
B- Beginning- I need support in the particular skill
NOTE: if the rubric states a specific reading level like “T” “P” etc. Ask which level system they use. Many schools use the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) or Fountas and Pinnell (AKA Guided Reading) leveling system. Below is a chart that shows what level your child is expected to be reading at according to his/her grade. This may vary slightly from school district to school district. The expected reading rate is also indicated for each grade level.
At the beginning of the school year, a parent should expect their child to be performing with mostly “D” or higher. Because it is the beginning of the school year, your child should be developing the skills needed to move on to the next grade.
Some parents experience the wonderful news that their child is performing at their grade level or above. If your child is at the “S” or “E” level at the beginning of the year, ask the school what their plan is to continue to keep your child challenged in all academic areas. Should your child be tested for the gifted program so that he/she can continue to grow? Are there supplemental activities that can be made to keep your child challenged?
You might receive more disappointing news. Maybe your child is struggling with reading or math. He/she may not be performing at the same level as his/her peers. First of all, you are not alone. There are many children who struggle in one area or another and are able to overcome it. However, it is important to devise a plan as early as possible to get your child on the road to success. Don’t take the approach to just “wait and see.” The older your child gets, the faster the curriculum advances, potentially putting your child at risk of falling even further behind. Below are some specific questions you can ask at parent-teacher conferences that might help you understand strategies, approaches, and expectations that the school has for your child.
1. What specific assessments are used to determine my child’s current abilities?
It is important to consider whether the instructors are using computerized or face-to-face assessments and whether the assessments report the specific grade level at which your child is performing. Face-to-face tests can provide more accurate results since the instructor can more easily identify if a child is stuck on a certain concept, isn’t completing it correctly or just simply isn’t trying.
2. What is my child’s current grade level for reading accuracy?
Reading accuracy assesses a child’s ability to pronounce each word in the story correctly.
3. What is my child’s grade level for reading rate?
Reading rate indicates the amount of time taken by the student to read a story.
4. What is my child’s current grade level for reading fluency?
Reading fluency is a combination of a student’s reading accuracy and rate.
NOTE: Obtaining individual scores for each area: accuracy, rate, and fluency helps an instructor better identify where the child is struggling the most and what area needs to be addressed first. Addressing your child’s reading accuracy and knowledge of phonetic rules before addressing their reading rate is imperative. Just as we all learn new skills, we aren’t able to complete a new task rapidly until the accuracy has been established. When a figure skater learns a new maneuver, she can’t initially start working on doing that maneuver at top speed. She must first get the technique down (accuracy) and then as the skill becomes more natural, she can start practicing it with increased speed. So often a student’s reading rate is the main focus in programs which only creates unnecessary frustrations for the student.
5. What is my child’s grade level for reading comprehension?
This area looks at a student’s ability to understand concepts such as details, main ideas, and inferences within the passage they have read. If a child is not able to understand what they are reading, what is the point in reading? This is one of the most important aspects of reading but is often overlooked.
6. What reading group level is my child in (lower, middle, higher), and how was this placement determined?
Here is a personal example of why this is important: My daughter had difficulties with reading due to a vision issue. She was put into the “lower” reading group at school and was very upset. This placement would have been fine if her overall reading abilities were at that level, but it turned out that the school only put her in that group because of her slow reading rate. They had not taken into account her reading accuracy or reading comprehension, which were both above grade level. After a more thorough reading evaluation, I asked the school to put her in a higher reading group so that she would be appropriately challenged in her reading accuracy and comprehension. They did and she thrived. Had she been kept in the lower group, she would have been frustrated and not felt as confident to move to the next stage of reading as quickly. There are certainly times when the lower reading group may be more appropriate for students, and students should not be put in a higher reading level just because they are upset about their placement, but it is important to make sure that your child is placed in the level that is going to be most beneficial for their growth. Find out how the school determines which reading group your child is in. Make sure the instructor looks at all areas of reading and considers your child’s personality to determine if your child will be motivated by a more challenging group or if it will be too frustrating. Your expertise as your child’s parent will be critical here. No one knows your child better than you.
7. What specific assessments do you use to monitor progress?
Teachers need to know whether their strategies are or are not working, and assessments should be frequent so that you don’t get a year down the road and realize that the approach is not working and should have been adapted a long time ago. The assessments do not always have to be formal assessments; sometimes informal data collection is just as informative.
8. How do you communicate my child’s progress and status, and how often should I expect that communication?
You should know what kind of information to expect about your child’s progress and should expect at least some data to be collected on a weekly basis.
9. What specific strategies do you use for children with reading issues?
There is not one program that is all-inclusive to meet every child’s needs, especially for those who struggle in reading. Strategies that are research-based and individualized will be more effective than a “cookie cutter approach.”
10. What strategies are used to foster my child’s reading comprehension abilities?
If a teacher describes giving a child a paragraph to read and answer questions on, this is just an assessment. You may want to request a different method or seek out another source to give your child strategies and tools to help them retain information.
11. How large are the reading groups and how many children are in the group?
Ask for specifics about data collection and reading strategies taught during this time. Ask whether the instructor teaches to your child’s specific level or to the average level of the group.
12. How much one-on-one time does my child get per day?
If your child struggles in reading, they need some one-on-one attention in order to catch up with peers. Specific phonics rules and reading strategies that were missed somewhere along the way need to be addressed.
13. Does the school expect students to learn and memorize their fact families?
Fact families teach children the relationship between addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division sentences. They also teach children to recognize similarities, such as 2+3=5 and 3+2=5. Many school curricula do not encourage memorization of fact families, but this is a foundational skill that will help make word problems manageable for your child.
14. What specific strategies do you use to help my child memorize these fact families?
Utilizing a visualizing technique is very effective. Keep in mind that when teachers use flashcards they are simply assessing the student, without giving them specific strategies to retain the facts in their memory.
15. What type of word problems are students expected to do related to math?
Find out what strategies are used to help them break the problem down and determine which math computation to use.
Maintaining open communication with the schools is the most important thing you can do for your child. Schools and teachers have your child’s best interests at heart and want to help your child in any way possible. However, it is important for you to know that state regulations sometimes limit the number of services and assistance that your child can receive. Budget cuts and large class sizes make addressing every child’s specific needs difficult for any teacher, no matter how talented they are. It is not that the schools and the teachers don’t want to provide everything to all the children, but the reality is that resources are many times limited. Reaching out to other resources for assistance can be one of the best steps you take to bridge that gap between frustration due to academic delays and achieving goals. The earlier your child’s delays are addressed, the less likely they will experience negative feelings about learning and school.
At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center we can help build those foundational skills, get your child to achieve at or above grade level putting them on a path to academic success.
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Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs. At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success. Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.
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