If you're concerned about your child's academic performance don't hesitate to speak with their teacher. Photo: Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Last month, we published a post entitled, Most Parents Think Their Child is Higher Achieving Than Tests Say They Are: Grades and test scores don’t always tell the complete story

We explained that:

Many American parents would be shocked to know where their kids were actually achieving. Nationally, 90% of parents think their children are reading and doing math at or above grade level. In fact, only 26% of eighth graders are proficient or above in math and 31% are proficient or above in English. What’s worse, 80% of parents say they are confident they understand how their child is achieving academically, and more than three quarters say they feel their kids are prepared to enter and succeed at college and in the workplace. They don’t seem to know there’s a problem.

To help avoid the gut-punch shock expressed by some of the moms and dads quoted in the post after their straight-A student failed to pass the NY state tests, we offered the advice of one teacher:

Grades can often be higher than state tests because grades also include completed homework assignments, class participation and extra-credit work. In addition, some teachers give partial credit for any work attempted on an in-class test, something standardized tests don’t do. So if you want a more realistic view of how your child is performing, look at their in-class tests. Count the questions they actually got right, versus the ones where they got partial credit. This will give you a better idea of how they’ll score on a non-curved assessment.

But there is still much more that families concerned about anything happening in their child’s school can do. 

Mom Jean told Epicenter that she’d noticed the disconnect between her daughter’s grades and her test scores going on two years now. “The first year, I dismissed it as remote learning (loss) related to Covid. This past year, I noticed it again,” she said. “We’ve known she has ADHD, but this partially prompted us to do a comprehensive psych evaluation and it turns out our child has a speech disability and mild dyslexia. It didn’t occur to me to ask her teacher about this, so appreciate the idea and will ask her teacher about it and will report back.”

Quotes like this are the most concerning thing of all. When it comes to turning to the person who should be your first stop regarding concerns about your child’s school performance, many parents either don’t think to do so, don’t expect to get a response, or are genuinely terrified of the consequences.

I get it. I’ve been writing about education in NYC for over a decade now, have had two kids graduate from NYC public schools (well, one graduated, and one kind of did… but that’s a different story). Yet, when it came to reaching out to my third child’s new high school about having her placed in the appropriate math class, I was as intimidated as any inexperienced parent. 

No, I was as intimidated as any immigrant parent. For so many of us who grew up in societies where rocking the boat was akin to painting a target on your child’s back, the idea of reaching out to an authority figure, especially one who (we think) holds our child’s entire future in their hands (they really don’t), is a horrifying prospect.

Which is why we’re here with advice straight from the mouths of teachers and administrators about the optimal way to get this process done, without offense, and with your best chance to see results.

Dana Kaplan, of Developing Empathetic Education with Dana (DEED), encourages adults to model positive behavior for their children, reminding families that, “Our brains are wired to be curious, thus preventing judgment from occurring alongside curiosity. When we choose curiosity over judgment, shame, blame, and guilt, we, as a collective, are providing space for all learners to live and be curious, to learn and grow while experiencing challenges, lessons, small wins, and big decisions.”

Brinton Parson, head of The Alexander Robertson School advises families that, “for elementary school students, going in to observe in the classroom is a good first step; that allows parents to see classroom expectations, assess classwork and witness social interactions firsthand. Currently, most teachers and schools use a platform such as Google Classroom which allows everyone to track classwork, homework, quizzes and tests, providing open channels of communication between students, teachers and parents.”

Meanwhile, Joe Negron, founding school leader of KIPP Beyond Middle School, the first intentionally integrated public charter school across the KIPP national network, explains that “as far as do’s and don’t’s regarding connecting with teachers, do approach the conversation or email with the same level of kindness and empathy with which you’d want them approaching you if the situation was reversed. Being a parent is hard and so too is being a teacher so even a simple sentence starter like, ‘I know you have a lot on your plate, but I’d love to discuss…’ can go a long way.  Do stay objective and keep things grounded in facts whenever possible.”

Most importantly, it is imperative that parents shed the mindset that a teacher is doing them a favor by talking to them. Talking to parents is part of a teacher’s job. In fact, their 2023 United Federation of Teachers contract specifically designated: 

Parent engagement time to 55 minutes per week with this time being able to be conducted remotely. This time is self-directed, and teachers and paraprofessionals choose the activity and conduct parent engagement outside of the school day at the times that work for them. Parent engagement does not need to be conducted in one 55-minute block of time and may be spread out across the week.

Here are the contractual activities appropriate to conduct during parent engagement:

  • Meetings (individual or group) with parents or guardian
  • Telephone conversations with parents or guardians
  • Written correspondence with parents or guardians
  • Creating newsletters
  • Creating content for school/class websites and answering machines
  • Preparing student report cards
  • Preparing student progress reports
  • Meetings with parents of English Language Learners
  • Preparing for parent engagement activities

You are not imposing on their time, and you are not asking for anything you are not entitled to. (Though we are curious why meeting with parents of English Language Learners and meeting with parents are two separate categories.) Whether your child speaks English or not, whether you speak English or not, explaining your concerns to a teacher and coming up with a concrete plan which involves you both to solve the problem, is your right.

(There is a whole NYC Public Schools’ Office of Language Access, complete with a Translation and Interpretation Services Request Form to facilitate family-school communication. However, the one time I tried to access their services by phone, it was such a disaster that the Spanish speaking parent and I just used Google Translate back and forth. That can work, too, when all else fails.)

I know it’s hard. I know it’s frightening. I know it’s uncomfortable. But we have to do it. So that our kids’ lives are less hard, less frightening, and more comfortable than ours were.

Join the Conversation


  1. Hi Alina. Thank you for postimg this.

    If I read it correctly, Mr. Negron’s comments might lead people to think that Teachers are contractually obligated to 55 minutes per week per parent for ‘parent engagement’ which is not accurate.

    Teachers are already working 15-20 hours per week of Unpaid Overtime and Mr. Negron should know that.

    Mr. Negron’s presentation of the UFT contractual 55 minutes per week of parental engagement is inaccurate.

    Based on his comments, Teachers would have to give each parent 55 minutes of “engagement’ which would be roughly 30 hours per week for elementary school Teachers and 150 hours per week for middle and high school Teachers. That is simply impossible.

    In the new world of Google Classroom (which I think is great) Teachers are being engaged by parents, students and administration at anytime before and after their contractual day.

    Hopefully Mr. Negron will review his comments and revise them.

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