A Parents’ Guide to Deciphering Report Cards

Posted in Featured, Parent Education Resources, Tips & Advice

A Parents’ Guide to Deciphering Report Cards

Report cards are useful tools when it comes to understanding how your child is doing in the classroom – but sometimes they can be a bit confusing! Here are a few tips from the Teachers on Call team to help you navigate your child's report cards this year.

Have you ever read your child’s report card and come out more confused after reading it than you were before you started? We’ve been there too! Report cards are a teacher’s way of communicating with parents how their child is doing, and what they need to improve on to be successful. But a key component of that path to success is that students and parents understand what is being highlighted in the report card. And sometimes it feels like you need to speak a secret language just to be able to do that! 

No problem, Teachers on Call is here to translate for you, just in time for February Report Cards!

We’ve broken down our “translations” into three categories depending on what grade your child attends: Elementary (JK-6), Middle School (7-8), and Secondary.

But first, let’s “decode” the elements that are common to all report cards regardless of age: Learning Skills and Teacher Comments.

Learning Skills

There are six learning skills assessed on Ontario Report Cards:

  • Responsibility
  • Organization
  • Independent Work
  • Collaboration
  • Initiative
  • Self-regulation

*The report card will provide a legend with what each of these skills cover.

The learning skills are assessed with a letter. Here’s the code:

  • N- Needs Improvement
  • S- Satisfactory
  • G- Good
  • E- Excellent

So what does all that mean?

Learning skill assessment should be considered separate from the percentage/letter grade achieved. For instance, a student might have difficulty in a subject, but if their attitude/work habits are positive, that should show in the learning skill. Attitude, organization and initiative are key tools for success in school and in life so those Gs and Es should be celebrated!

Teacher Comments

Generally, teachers are told to “sandwich” their comments- start with a positive, suggest an area for improvement, and then focus on positive next steps. That’s why you will see that secondary midterm report cards provide exactly three comments. Elementary report cards are more detailed since the classroom teacher teaches multiple subjects, but you should still look for those three features.

It’s important to know that teachers are asked at least one skill/concept to work on, so don’t take that suggestion as a critique when you see it: even top students get those “next step” comments because we can always grow and learn more!

Another important insider tip is that teachers are required to use comments from an Educational Ministry approved comment bank. Some of the comments focus on learning habits (perhaps handing work in on time or attending regularly), and some focus on curriculum expectations taken straight from the Curriculum documents. That can often make the comments seem detached and/or full of jargon, but the comment banks are really there so that teachers are consistent.

But how do you read through the Jargon?

Pay attention to the adjective/adverb in the comment. That’s your secret code!

For example: 

Here are some selected comments from this grade 2 report card, with the key words bolded: “John” is a confident, creative student [...he] has shown good motivation with responding and participating in a variety of activities. [...] He is becoming more confident with investigating and obtaining information independently. He is becoming more receptive to teacher feedback, and with encouragement is beginning to proofread and edit his work [...] He does require reminders to take how time and put more effort into producing neat, legible work.


  • John is confident and creative, John has good motivation- these are the positives.
  • “Is becoming” means the student isn’t there yet. They’ve probably improved over the year but they aren’t at the Level 3 provincial standard yet.
  • Does require: the student still needs teacher reminders and feedback to achieve this skill so this an important next step to work on.

But wait, learning skills and comments are great, but how are the actual “marks” shown?

Teachers often grade according to a four levelled rubric, and/or sometimes will give students a percentage grade on an individual assignment. However, Elementary, Middle School and Secondary all require a different way to report those marks. Here’s a handy chart to see how all those fit together! Level 3 is considered the provincial standard.

Achievement Level Percentage % Letter Grade
4+ 95-100 A+
4 87-94 A
4- 80-86 A-
3+ 77-79 B+
3 73-76 B
3- 70-72 B-
2+ 67-69 C+
2 66-66 C
2- 60-62 C-
1+ 57-59 D+
1 53-56 D
1- 50-52 D-
R Less than 50 Unsuccessful

What about those other boxes?

ESL/ELD= English as a Second Language or English Literacy Development. This is checked when a course has been modified in language expectations for English Language Learners.

IEP= Individual Education Plan. These are done for students who have additional learning or accommodation needs.

N/A= this box is checked if there’s not enough evidence to assess this subject, or if the subject wasn’t taken.

Now that you are well versed on what all the report cards have in common, head to the subheading that best fits your child to see how their report cards will be distinct depending on their grade.



Junior and Senior Kindergarten students will receive reports unique to the rest of their elementary report cards. These reports are called “Communication of Learning” reports and are given out twice in the year- the Communication of Learning Initial Observations and the Communication of Learning. Kindergarten reports are generally comment based only and focus on progress and/or next steps.

You will notice that what students are “graded” or assessed on is very different than in other years where marks are given by subject. In Ontario Kindergarten students are assessed on the four frames: Belonging and Contributing, Self-Regulation and Well-Being, Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours, and Problem Solving and Innovating. See the following snip from a sample report card for what that means!


Parent Tip: You will notice that the literacy frame is described as “Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics behaviours”. Many kindergarten parents are often concerned with their child’s early reading levels. By the end of Senior Kindergarten children should be able to print and recognize their numbers and letters, and have beginning recognition of some words. See a sample of what kind of words here. The provincial expectation is “reading by the end of grade one” so don’t worry if your child isn’t reading in kindergarten yet!

Grades 1-6

Elementary grades 1-6 have three report cards in the school year, and each has a designated release time, style and purpose:

  • Elementary Progress Report Cards – November
  • Elementary Provincial Report Card 1 – February
  • Elementary Provincial Report Card 2 – June
A. Elementary Progress Report Cards

Progress report cards are there to provide you with general feedback on your child’s progress in academics, learning skills and work habits. No grades are assigned. For the main academic subjects including math, language and science the “mark” is a check in a column: progressing very well, well or with difficulty. “Progressing very well” means surpassing provincial standards, “progressing well” means the student is meeting the standards, and “with difficulty” means they are below standards.

Generally, a parent only needs to be concerned about that “with difficulty” marker. But whatever the level of “progress” noted, those report card comments, and especially the learning skills, are a great opportunity to discuss with your child what they can celebrate and be proud of, and what they can work on.

As well, because the report cards come early in the year, some of the option courses like drama, dance, health, or music may state there isn’t enough evidence to assess. That’s because whether your child hasn’t had that subject enough times to produce work to look at.

B. Elementary Provincial Report Card 1- February

This is the report card that comes with an official grade. All the ideas for learning skills and comments highlighted earlier apply, but for this report card your child receives a grade, based on how well they have reached the expected level of provincial achievement. Students in grades 1-6 will get a letter grade.

These February report cards should also focus on how students can improve, as it’s really the final report card in June that determines the steps and supports needed for the following year.

*Remember that there’s a lot of time to improve between February and June, and that’s one process a Teachers on Call tutor can really help with!

C. Elementary Provincial Report Card 2- June

This report card also comes with an official grade, and should focus on how students have grown over the year, as well as next steps and recommended placement for the following year. Recommendations on support that could help your child succeed in the following year are sometimes given. Those are great recommendations to discuss with your tutor.

By the June report card, students should have received a mark for all their academic subjects as well as their options, including art, drama, music, dance, health, and French (grades four and up).

Let’s look at an example from a June report card:

Reading Comment: “John” is consistently able to extend his understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to his own knowledge and experience.

Translation: that’s a win! Consistently, regularly, always, confidently; those are the adjectives to look for in successful report cards.

Writing: he usually uses parts of speech such as adjectives and joining words appropriately to help communicate his meaning.

Translation: the student is approaching the standard with this skill but needs to show it more consistently.

What else makes the June report card distinct in Elementary?

The mark achieved in June is generally what is recorded for the student’s Ontario Student Record (OSR). OSRs follow the student as they go through grades and schools so teachers may visit them to see how a student progresses or if there is a history of struggling with a subject, especially literacy. Learn more about OSRs here.

Middle School/Upper Elementary Report Cards

The main difference in report cards for grades 7 and 8 is that students are given percentage marks rather than letter grades. They should still receive learning skill assessment and teacher comments.

Middle School reports follow a similar pattern as earlier Elementary grades where they will get a Progress report, there to give you feedback and general comments, and then the February and June reports give you grades.

On Middle School June report cards you will also see both a mark for the course and the course median, as well as a recommendation for placement in the following school year. The course median is there to give you an idea of where the class as a whole is, but the provincial standard is still a level 3 (70-79%).

What to talk about with your middle school learner and their teachers:

Focus on what they are doing well, and what the suggested next steps are. At this age a positive attitude toward school is key since there are so many other emotional, physical and social challenges happening in this age group. With kids and their teachers, focus on conversations around strategies to improve, rather than failings. That’s a key component of the educational concept of Growth Mindset which really benefits teenagers. Any struggles with numeracy or literacy are great points of intervention as they are the building blocks for success in many secondary subjects.

This is a great age to consider tutoring since it can foster a positive relationship with a caring adult and help to build student confidence at an age where kids are often seeking that confidence.

Secondary Report Cards 

The timing of secondary report cards will vary by school. Generally, students receive a midterm report card and a final report card, whether semestered, non semestered or quadmestered. The midterm mark should be considered a progress report and identification for what next steps/celebrations students can focus on. Generally, the final report card mark will show the mark at midterm and at course end, but the transcript/OSR will only show the final mark. If students or parents are unhappy with that midterm mark, it’s the perfect time to give Teachers on Call a chance to help the student turn that around for the final report card.

Ultimately, the final report card of course is most important. An exception that should be considered is if the student is in grade twelve, as depending on when the course is taken/completed, university and college submission committees may look at the midterm mark. In addition, parents and students should know that universities and colleges look at grade 11 and grade 12 marks in considering acceptance.  Therefore grade 11 is another great time to try Teachers on Call to start the path to post-secondary acceptance success.

One other exception in reporting timelines and importance, is in the grade 10 year when students take the mandatory civics and careers course. The two courses are put into one section so the midterm report will show the final mark for either the civics or careers, and the final report will show the mark for the other course.

On the final report card for a course, the report will also state the number of credits earned. Each course is generally 1 credit. If the student has not completed the course a zero will appear. Credits are ultimately what are considered when determining whether a student achieves their high school diploma. If you need to know more about those requirements, visit this link.

Grade 12 students should also be aware of their school’s course withdrawal dates. This is the last date for a student to drop a course before it appears on their transcript for university/college applications. Generally, this is referred to as the “Full Disclosure Date” in a student agenda or on a school website. If a student withdraws from a course you may see a W in that credit earned column.

But wait, my child came home with an Interim Report Card. What’s That?

Some secondary schools will also use an Interim report card. This comes out before the midterm report card. Only a Learning Skill Letter is given, and a comment only appears when a student receives an N. This is generally an early intervention strategy to help teachers connect with parents and to address any major concerns prior to the midterm report card. Another great time to consider a tutor if you see an S (Satisfactory) or an N (Needs Improvement).

An additional “code” parents might need help understanding on a secondary report card is the Course Code. Courses are listed by code rather than name. Some are easy enough to figure out: ENG1D= ENG- English, 1-Grade 9 (2-10, 3-11, 4-12) D-Academic (P-Applied). Others are less obvious. For example, Mandarin as a second language is LKMBD1! You can visit your child’s school website or the Ministry of Education website for all the codes if needed. A list of helpful resources is provided at the end of this post.

So Now What?

Does all this seem overwhelming? We hear you! No matter what grade your child is in, the main focus should be on growth and positive school experiences. And whether your child is struggling or keen to learn and grow more, tutoring can help immensely! Check out Teachers on Call for more information on navigating the educational world and helping your child succeed!


Government of Ontario Approved Report Card Templates: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/forms/report/card/reportcard.html

Elementary Curriculum: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/grades.html

Secondary Curriculum: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/grades.html

High School Graduation Requirements: https://www.ontario.ca/page/high-school-graduation-requirements

Post Secondary Considerations: https://www.ontario.ca/page/go-college-or-university-ontario 

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