It is a frequent complaint of parents, particularly as their children grow older, that they are out of touch with their children's school lives. Children are often reluctant to talk about their grades, and parents often suspect--with good reason--that they are not getting the whole story.
One good way to monitor your child's progress and achievements in school is to visit the school to look at the child's cumulative file.
A cumulative file must be kept for every student in California's public schools, according to state law. These records usually begin in first grade and are mailed directly from a child's old school to his or her new ones, until graduation. From such a file, it is possible to obtain an overall view of your son or daughter's academic and behavioral progress.
To protect the student's privacy, access to his or her cumulative file is guarded carefully by the school district. These records may be viewed by the students themselves, and by the parent or guardian who has custody of the child.
In addition, teachers and select members of school and district staff may also study the file.
To examine your child's records, visit the school's counseling or registrar's office and ask to see them. Be sure to bring photo identification to prove that you are the parent or guardian indicated in the child's file.
Bear in mind that, under state law, the school has five days to fulfill your request. Don't be surprised or insulted if you are asked to schedule an appointment for another day.
Before you are given the file, you probably will have to sign your name for it, since a record is kept of all requests for viewing, including those by teachers and staff.
And although you may study the file as thoroughly as you like, you cannot take it with you or remove any records from it.
In the file you will see some records that are required by law and must be kept for each student. These include residence and family information, immunization and health data, all courses taken and grades, and some standardized test scores. If your student is in a Special Education program, then the customary Individual Education Plan must also appear.
You will also see some things that must be included, if applicable, such as suspension records, court orders that bar an abusive parent from visiting the child or school, and parent prohibition of children from certain programs such as sex education or study of the theory of evolution.
Items which are permitted for inclusion, but not required, include referrals to counselors, psychologists' reports, commendations or attendance records if a severe absence problem exists.
In addition to grades, standardized test scores are often good indicators of your child's basic skills in a range of subjects.
The California Test of Basic Skills, for example, is taken by children in elementary or middle school and measures skills in vocabulary, reading, writing, math and social studies. (The Iowa Test of Basic Skills is sometimes substituted for the California test).
You may also see scores for voluntary exams such as the Advanced Placement Exam, which may allow your high school student college credit for some classes.
Results of the voluntary Scholastic Aptitude Test, used by most colleges to help determine admission, are also usually found in cumulative files.
Incidentally, colleges and potential employers cannot ask a school to send a cumulative file, although colleges may inquire about specific contents.
Chances are that viewing your child's cumulative file will give you a much better understanding of what the student does well, and what he or she needs to practice.
You may also discover some disturbing trends that may never become crises if you address them now.