3 Uncommon Signs of Academic Trouble

This is a serious problem, but this comic is still funny.

It’s report card day! Your child digs through loose papers and crumpled fruit snack bags in order to find it and quickly hands it to you before running off to play. You take a deep breath and open it slowly. You both worked hard this quarter. You asked him every day if he had all his homework done, and he always said yes. His grades should reflect that…right?

Wrong. Your heart sinks as you look at the letters and look again. What went wrong? With all the investment that you put into your child’s education, it can be worrisome, and even anxiety producing, for him to continue to not do well in school. One way to avoid a devastating report card day is to catch academic problems before they get out of hand.

Low test scores or low homework grades are obvious signs that your child is in trouble. But there might be a few signs you may not think to look for.

Mood Swings around Homework or Test Time

I’ve tutored dozens of kids and one thing I’ve noticed with the vast majority of them is when they don’t understand something, their entire mood shifts. A child can come into a session smiling and completely pleasant but as soon as we start long division or I’m asking questions about their book report book, they either get mean or they start cracking jokes. It’s a defense mechanism, and if you think about it, you probably know adults who do the same thing. If your child has a hissy fit every time you ask about homework, it could be a sign that they’re struggling but don’t know how to ask for help.

The Magical Disappearing Homework!

I worked with one student for awhile who had the hardest time getting his homework into the teacher’s hands. The night before, I saw that his homework was done. His mother saw that his homework was done. But at some point between getting on the bus in the morning and the start of the class, his homework disappeared. His report card was a disaster that quarter, and it wasn’t because his test scores were low or he didn’t understand the material. It’s because in elementary and middle school (and even many high schools), simply turning in your homework counts for a lot of credit. When you don’t do that, your grades can plummet.

While he wasn’t necessarily struggling academically, this child was losing his homework and that was a sign of a larger organizational problem that needed to be addressed. Now, he’s finishing up his junior year of high school and is one of the most organized, disciplined students I know–all because someone recognized what was going on.

Test-Induced Illness

I’ll admit it…I’ve done it. You wake up the morning of a test and you can’t get your heart to stop pounding. The pressure of doing well and the overwhelming amount of knowledge that you simply don’t know creates a stomach ache. You do whatever trick you need to do to get the thermometer to give out an inaccurate reading (I won’t give anyone any ideas…) and voila! You bought yourself an extra day to study.

Test-induced illness could be a sign that your child doesn’t understand the material or he may understand it just fine. Either way, stress over tests at this level is unhealthy. This kind of anxiety around academics can turn into a serious problem later on, especially as the pressure increases in high school and college. Know when your chid’s tests and quizzes are and when projects are due. If you have these dates listed on your own calendar and start to notice a trend, do what you can to alleviate some of your child’s anxiety.

If you start to notice these or any other worrisome behaviors, check in with your child. Some children are hesitant to talk about what’s bothering them, so try to create an atmosphere that’s comfortable for them. You could go out for fro-yo and chat or take a yoga or martial arts class together or simply sit for awhile and watch his favorite TV show.

If your child doesn’t even know what’s going on (sometimes they don’t), talk to the teacher. Together, you might be able to pick out different trends that are unique to your child and determine if a tutor, academic coach, or psychologist can help.

Hang in there! And on report card day, don’t despair too much. Approach it with some amount of objectivity and you might be able to notice things on your own that you can do to help your child.

Homework comic
How many kids wish this would work?

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3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Child’s Data

Data can be a scary word for people who aren’t used to it. But in a sense, data is really just information. Your child will have data/information attached to him all through school. It comes in the form of report cards, test scores, benchmark results, progress reports, and parent teacher conferences.

It can be important for your child’s future that you take this data and use it to inform your decisions.

How does this work? Great question! Here are some examples:

  • You notice your first grader’s test and quiz scores are slipping. So, you check in with him and find out he’s showing some warning signs of stress that you need to address.
  • You get a letter from your child’s teacher saying that he’s doing great on tests and quizzes but isn’t turning in homework. And his grades are suffering. This prompts you to check in with him and you find out that he’s losing his homework on the way to school.
  • Your child consistently underperforms on oral reports, and you know this because you keep track of these things. For the next oral report, you spend extra time practicing with your child so that he gets used to speaking in front of a group.
  • You and your child are keeping track of his high school courses and you notice in the beginning of junior year that he is not on track to graduate. You’re able to work with the school counselor to figure out what he needs to do to graduate on time.

If you’re a numbers person, you can really dive deep into your child’s data and use Excel documents or other software programs to keep track of test scores, homework, attendance and more. Even if numbers make you a little nauseous (*raises hand* …that’s me!), you can still create your own simplified system that will help you use the data to your child’s advantage.

Schools across the country are becoming more and more aware of how important it is for students and parents to have access to their data. A few years ago, the School District of Philadelphia created a program called StudentNet, which is an online portal that shows students their grades, benchmark scores, attendance record, and much more. Lots of private schools now use programs like Edline where students can view their grades and homework assignments.

You probably know why grades are important. Attendance might be less obvious. Attendance Works created the following info graphic to show how important it is that kids attend school regularly in the early years.

attendance infographie
Attendance Works’ Inforgraphic on why attendance is so important

What should you do?

Here are some things you can do to get a handle on your child’s data.

1. Check to see if your school has a software program. Ask your child’s teacher or a school administrator if there’s a way you can see homework assignments, grades, etc online.

2. Create a system of keeping track of your child’s data. You can create a simple chart on pen and paper. If you know how to work Excel, you can create a workbook. Microsoft has many different templates in Excel and Word that can make tracking grades easy.

3. Connect with your teacher. There are certain things you can do to build a great parent-teacher relationship. When it comes to making sure your child is on track, the teacher will be your greatest ally.

This doesn’t have to be hard. You’ll want to work with your child as well and get them to understand why keeping an eye on grades is important. As they get older, you’ll want them to take over the tracking system and shoulder that responsibility.

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I’d love to connect with you. Meet with me on LinkedIn or check out my Twitter!
If you’re a potential client or editor, please feel free to check out my online portfolio or email me for clips.