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How to Read a Lower School Progress Report

March 23, 2022 | Emily Ford Sytsma

As Lower School teachers continue to incorporate national standards as learning targets in student progress reports, some families have wondered how to tell if their child is making the expected progress toward those targets.  Below are some ways to know how your child is doing.

The Learning Continuum Is a Proficiency Scale

The Learning Continuum section of the progress report will contain marks that show progress toward learning targets in math and literacy.  Remember, learning is a process. It’s not automatic or immediate.  These marks show you where your child is along the way in each specific skill or concept. Think of learning to ride a bicycle.  The Learning Continuum will give you a picture of how your child is moving along.  

  • B is for BEGINNING. In the beginning stages of learning, a student needs training wheels.  They often review where to put their hands and feet. They practice taking off and balancing, but they are not secure in riding on their own. 
  • D is for DEVELOPING. A child at this level is making progress toward the target, still moving along the continuum toward proficiency.  The child is moving but may be a little wobbly.  They improve with practice and guidance, but falls may still happen. 
  • P is for PROFICIENT.  Proficiency is the goal.  A student who has proficiency is riding along smoothly.  They consistently maneuver around objects in the road and keep moving along the path toward the next level of skills. 

The Learner Portrait Is a Narrative Report

The Learner Portrait is what teachers use to paint a holistic picture of a student’s work at school.  Teachers will share information about their observations of the student’s development of the Twenty Habits of Heart and Mind, Learning and Work.  They will support those observations with stories or examples from the classroom experiences.  Teachers will balance comments about strengths with notes regarding a student’s weaker areas or challenges.  They will discuss how the child’s work has grown over the last term and name some goals for students.

Reading these paragraphs that the teachers have prepared will give you some specifics you can discuss with your child.  You can celebrate the ways they are working hard and the growth they have achieved.  And you can check in about the goals teachers have set and make plans together about how to work toward those goals. 

Should I Worry?  

For every concept or skill, a student will begin at the beginning, develop and grow through practice, and eventually acquire proficiency. For every student, some concepts and skills are more difficult to learn than others. So, the answer to this question is very individual.  Here are some clues that you can find in the progress report:

One-Term Goal vs. Year-Long Goals 

On the progress report, you will see that the math and literacy standards have  been separated into standards that are taught only in THIS TERM and standards that are addressed over the course of the FULL YEAR

  • Winter-Term Goals

These are standards that were covered by instruction in the term that is now ending.  Students should have reached proficiency in these grade-level standards.  If your child is still developing or beginning in these areas, support is needed.

  • Year-Long Goals

These standards are more complex and the work required to achieve them successfully and independently will take more time.  Instruction is provided over the course of more than one term.  By the end of the winter term, all students should have moved on from a beginning level but it is expected that students may still be at a developing level.  Students who are still at a beginning level need extra help to keep moving forward. 

Learner Portrait Goals

When reading the Learner Portrait, keep an eye on trends.  Your child’s previous progress reports can be found in Blackbaud if you would like to compare terms or track progress.  If an area mentioned as a goal in the first term is still a goal in the second term, or if there is no mention of growth in an area that was mentioned as a notable goal last term, it may be a sign that there is an area of learning where your child needs extra support.

As you read, also look for key phrases like:

  • Would benefit from extra practice…
  • Needs teacher help in order to…
  • Should continue to work at home on…

Marks that show proficiency as expected (in term vs. full year), trends in goal areas, and teacher comments about extra practice, these are all the cues for the ways you can support learning and development toward proficiency at home.  If a plan is not already in place, check in with teachers for resources about activities and practice that could be utilized at home or to see what extra support might be available at school.  

Emily Ford Sytsma

Early Childhood Director

Ms. Sytsma began her career as an educator working in inclusive classrooms in the state of Hawaii but found her roots began to grow here at Mustard Seed School when she came to teach in 1996. She joined the preschool team in 2007, after teaching for many years in the Middle School. She finds delight in the preschool’s approach to teaching and learning, inspired by the preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As Early Childhood Director, she seeks to support teachers in their work helping children learn about thinking and creative expression.

Ms. Sytsma’s the mother of a MSS alum and a current student. When not at school, Ms. Sytsma enjoys traveling with her husband and two children. She tends a very simple rooftop garden in Jersey City Heights and on long Saturday mornings, she may be seen taking long walks along the Hudson River and listening to audiobooks or podcasts while organizing her thoughts and getting her heart rate up.

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