With only a month or two to go before school ends, teachers are browsing their to-do lists, and near the top is the last report card of the year. It’s not only the one that parents and students read most closely, but it’s also the one that draws a picture of your student for their next year’s teacher.

That doesn’t mean you should panic, or that the report should be stuffed with everything that happened during the year. Instead, keep these last report cards simple, to the point, and true to each student’s performance.

First, imagine you’re reading a report on a new student. What would you want to know? Then, write your own report in a way that a new teacher will understand the student’s strengths and weaknesses and what they can do to help him or her be successful. “Her behavior improved through the year” is a message that classroom conduct was an issue. “Needed to be challenged” will convey the student is high performing. And, of course, writing a note about issues such as behavior, problems with family, and specific academic challenges goes the extra mile.

Follow the same guidelines you would use in a parent-teacher conference. Always start with positive aspects of the student’s achievements. Then, highlight an area in which the child showed improvement. Writing a laundry list of all the things the student didn’t do well will just rehash bad feelings. Be constructive, stating your belief that the next year will be even better. If the year went well, say that more successes are in store.

Many parents read the end-of-year report card and hold on to it as a calling card for the next teacher. For this reason alone, it’s important to include exercises and examples of work the student should complete over the summer to prepare for the following year. Make this a list of easy-to-complete activities that parents can do with their child with minimal effort. For example, reading a few books and making posters or comic strips to communicate the books’ main ideas would be both fun and useful. Or you could have the child practice addition and subtraction with dice, flash cards, or beans for 10 minutes a couple of times each week. Provide concrete suggestions that a parent or family member can actually enact.

Finally, be realistic and engaging. If parents see unknown terms (drop the education-ese) or instructions to buy an expensive computer program or a specific book, the response will probably be, “I have to buy what? Forget it!” Make summer activities something everyone can support. If you do have recommendations for specific items, include those in a separate letter.

This report card is, most of all, a brief yet important message to the family, to the student, and to next year’s teacher. Make it clear and easy to read, and to the point. And most important, make it a valuable resource for everyone concerned, so that it doesn’t end up in the trash.

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Illustration: John W. Tomac