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In the last several years, many states have changed the way elementary schools keep parents informed of their children’s progress. Instead of receiving traditional report cards with letter grades A-F, elementary students might bring home (or receive digitally) a standards-based report card with numerical marks 1-4 for each subject area (broken down into several categories each).

What do the numbers mean on report cards? Each state has a set of standards (which are categories of skills) for what students are expected to learn in each grade. Schools and school districts develop their curricula based on those standards. The standards-based report card shows advancement toward mastery of those standards. Put simply, these marks represent a student’s progress at the time of the report toward each standard being measured.

Typically, these types of elementary report cards have a legend describing what each of the numbers mean. That might look like this:

4 Advanced/exceeding the grade-level standard

3 Proficient/meeting the grade-level standard

2 Basic/approaching the grade-level standard

1 Below basic/does not meet the grade-level standard

Standards-based grading breaks down the subject matter into smaller skill categories that are measured. Each category is a teachable concept that students should master by the end of the grading period. For example: under the subject of mathematics, standards-based grading could show your students’ progress on the category of “can find the sum of two-digit numbers,” as a 1 which means your student does not meet the grade-level standard at the time the report card was issued.

This type of measurement/grading system is different from report cards you might have seen in the past (or received when you were in elementary school). Here are several things to keep in mind:

  • The number scale doesn’t translate to the traditional letter grade scale (and isn’t intended to). It can be confusing for parents who are used to letter grades to grasp that a 4 does not equal an A, and a 3 does not equal a B. Rather, these numbers show how a student is progressing toward mastery of grade-level standards (based on the above) at the time of each report card.

  • A mark of 1 or 2 early in the school year shouldn’t be cause for great concern. As this type of report card is measuring progress, it is reasonable that students might receive 1s and 2s on report cards early in the year. As they build new knowledge and grow their skills, they should move up that scale throughout the school year.

  • This type of report card supports student learning with clear communication. One of the biggest pros of a standards-based report card is that it lays out exactly what your student needs to learn by the end of the school year. Each time a report card is released, you’ll get a clear picture of your child’s development in each subject area.

  • Students’ grades (marks) are objective. Your child’s marks will show how well they are doing in school academically, as it relates to grade-level standards. The grades are based on your student’s mastery of the skill which makes it clear to the teacher where the student needs help or is thriving.

Other Skills Measured on the Elementary Report Card

Many standards-based report cards assess areas such as behavior in the classroom, self-discipline, study skills, effort and teamwork/working with other students. These will likely be measured using a similar scale used for academic subjects. That might look something like this:

4 Exceeds expectations

3 Meets expectations

2 Sometimes meets expectations

1 Rarely meets expectations

Poor Report Card? Call Educate WNY for Individualized Tutoring Help

What should you do if your child’s elementary report card seems to indicate that they are struggling to keep up and not progressing as they should? First and foremost, talk with the teacher. They can explain where your child is demonstrating knowledge and skills that are appropriate at this point in the school year and where they are falling behind. The standards-based report card identifies specific areas of strength and weakness.

If your child needs additional help outside the classroom to reach grade-level standards, individualized tutoring gives your child the attention they might not get in a busy classroom which is important for your elementary student. When a student isn’t making sufficient progress toward mastery of those grade-level standards, tutoring can make a big difference. With the standards-based report card identifying a student’s weaknesses or areas that need improvement, individualized tutoring can target those specific skills and strengthen them.

Educate WNY's elementary tutoring program is designed to equip students with foundational skills so they can thrive in these challenging academic environments. With each student, we start with an academic evaluation to determine the student’s individual needs. We then develop a program to help the student learn the skills, tools and knowledge to improve their grades and meet every challenge with confidence. Whether your elementary school student needs help with reading, writing, math, science or study skills, we can help your child reach their full potential.

Go to to learn how Educate WNY can help your student this school year.

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