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Understanding the expected outcomes for your child’s grade can be helpful in a couple ways. First, it allows you to relax a bit knowing that your school has a focused plan for your child’s development. It also gives you a checklist by which to measure your child’s success. By understanding the learning expectations, parents gain a sense of organization and control over an otherwise uncontrollable situation.

Once you understand what your kid is expected to learn, you’ll be able to better engage them in the learning process. “Engagement” doesn’t need to be formal, it can be conversational and quick. Let’s use a typical third-grade science outcome as an example: “Student can investigate and understand different sources of energy.” If you know ahead of time that this is something your child needs to learn, you might point to the giant solar panels or wind turbines during your next car trip. You can ask your kid, “Do you know what that is? Do you know what it does?” If they don’t know, ask them to guess, then have a discussion. Have them do some research about it on their iPad (if they happen to have one for the trip), and see if they can explain to you how it works.

Depending on your kid, it might also be a good idea to share the list of outcomes for the year with them. Some kids might like being “in” on the plan, or by focusing on the tasks in a list it might take away the anxiety of getting good grades.

For centuries, educators have used formal assessments (tests, worksheets and grades) as the key measure of a student’s “success.” But in these challenging times, it’s important to focus less on the formal evaluation of student skills and more on the ability to demonstrate a skill in any way. This is especially important because students are missing the innumerous daily feedback exchanges from their teachers. Where once a teacher could easily sit across from a student to watch them practice a skill, parents are now the ones providing a lot of that feedback.

So how do parents make up for these lost informal assessment periods? Take a common third-grade language arts outcome: “Student can read words in cursive writing.” If you’re out for a walk together, see if you can spot houses that have numbers in cursive writing. If your kid finds one and reads it, great. If they can’t, take a minute to look at it and try to let them figure it out by observing the house numbers near it. Maybe they will become frustrated, but either way, you’ve identified where they are with that specific outcome. You’ve informally assessed their response and you know what to work on going forward.

It’s important that you focus on whether your child achieves the outcomes, not how they achieve them. We all have preferred methods of solving problems, presenting information and communicating thoughts. When given a math problem, some of us might use a paper and pencil, some might do the problem in their head, while others use their fingers to count to come up with the answer. If the outcome is met (your kid solves the math problem), does it really matter how they demonstrated it? Some experts suggest that even the common-held insistence to “show your work” might be hurting students more than helping them. Not to mention that this one-size-fits-all approach is exclusive, an argument that disability advocates in education have been making for years. Parents may therefore find their time better spent asking creative and challenging questions of their learners without setting a strict course for demonstrating achievement.

Parents are being asked to play a bigger role in their child’s education than ever before, and because of that, they should also be given the information that will allow them to do so. This is why your relationship with your child’s teacher is so important. By understanding the learning outcomes for your child, you are able to communicate with the teacher using education terminology — what was once a conversation about “math skills” (vague) can now be “Do you have some ideas about how I can work on X outcome at home?”

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