Grading Parents on Report Card Day


Report card season is meant as judgment day for kids, but in many cases it is the parents who come under scrutiny — most notably by the kids themselves.

How a parent reacts can bring a kid’s self-esteem up or knock it down, can encourage them to put forth more effort or to become complacent and can send strong messages about priorities, values and dealing with being judged.

In a Jewish community where academic pressure is high, keeping things in focus during report card season is essential. Positive and specific feedback, goal-setting and, above all, open communication — among the parent, the student and the school — is essential.

“When the report card comes the parent should ask themselves a few questions and have a good conversation with their child,” advised Ronni Ephraim, chief instructional officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). “The first thing you have to ask yourself is ‘do I have good communication with my school?’ and ‘what can I do as a parent?’ and ‘what can I ask my school to do better to help me understand where my child is before I get the news in the mail?'”

Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, head of school at Temple Emanuel Day School in Beverly Hills, said most schools today see the report card as one part of an ongoing narrative of the child’s social and academic progress through the school year, with conferences, progress reports and as-needed phone calls or meetings laying the context for what comes in the mail.

But even if the grade comes as no surprise, seeing the concrete letter or number on an official slip of paper acts as an important moment in a child’s school year, and knowing how to interpret the grade is essential.

“If a child is far behind, you need to ask why,” Ephraim said. “Are they doing their homework, are they attending class, are they attentive when they are in class, are they working as hard as they can? Depending on those answers, the parent knows how to engage with the school and the child.”

If effort and assiduousness don’t seem to be the issue, look to things such as the child’s emotional and physical health, where she sits and what her learning style is and work out a plan with the school and the student to bring things to a better level, Ephraim said.

Mapping those strategies out before the report card actually comes can soften the blow of a bad grade.

Parents also need to be realistic about their expectations.

“A lot of parents want their children to do better then they did and are pushing them harder because of their own issues, but they are pushing past what a child is capable of handling,” said Dr. Deborah Cutter, a family therapist who has taught classes in positive parenting.

But when a child is performing below his capability, Cutter advised letting the child know that while you expect better, your support and love is unconditional.

“You want to have an environment where the child can feel comfortable communicating and that they understand that you are there to support them no matter what,” Cutter said. “You don’t want to put the child on the defensive, because they are not going to listen and just shut you out.”

Even when a child is doing well, let him or her know that maintaining that standard will take more work as the material gets more challenging.

“I think it is really important to celebrate good grades, but to always set new goals,” Ephraim said. “A grade is just a grade in time.”

Cutter said the old-fashioned idea of rewards for grades hasn’t lost its power.

“I’ve found that using behavior modification with children really works,” she said, for example, offering $5 or $10 per “A” for older kids or a trip to the toy store for younger kids.

Any punishments, Cutter said, should be a natural consequence. For example, if a child has procrastinated on a report because she was instant-messaging all night, limit computer privileges.

Schools are working to make sure that parents know more about what is going on with their children.

At Emanuel, marks are very specific, so rather than a generic math grade, children get marks in things like addition, subtraction and fractions.

Like many other schools — including LAUSD elementary schools — Emanuel has moved to a one-through-four number system.

LAUSD ties those grades to the standards set out by the state, so that if a child gets a four (exceeds the standards) or a two (partially meets the standards) a parent can go to and, and see what specific academic criteria the child is or isn’t meeting. (Colleges expect letter grades, so high schools are still on the A-F scale.)

Going from letters to numbers also reduced the number of marks from five (A, B, C, D, F) to four, eliminating the default grade of C.

“You are either meeting or not meeting standards,” Ephraim said. “The middle-of-the-road grade was taken out.”

Whether report card day means a celebratory dinner or lots of slammed doors, Ephraim advises parents and kids to keep things in perspective.

“We have to be sensible about it and know that these kids have a long life of grades ahead of them, from kindergarten, through high school and even in college,” she said (speaking more as a Jewish mother than an educational professional, she admits). “We have to be careful about how we react to those grades in a way that doesn’t harm their self-esteem and at the same time that doesn’t let them be lazy. It’s a fine balance, and that is what parenting is about.”

How To React — and Not React — to Grades


• Don’t compare kids to their siblings or classmates.


• Feedback should be specific (nice work figuring out adding fractions), not general personality assessments (you’re a math genius).


• Point out what a child has done right along with what he has done wrong.


• Reward effort and incremental change, not just bottom-line grades.


• Keep communication open and don’t put the child on the defensive.

Community Briefs

Iraqi Aliyah Recounted at KahalJoseph

When the smoke cleared in Baghdad, most Americans wanted to get out. But Manhattan resident Rachel Zelon opted to go in.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society vice president, who was responsible for facilitating the rescue of a small group of Iraq’s remaining Jews and accompanying them to Israel, shared her experiences with members of Kahal Joseph Congregation on Aug. 5.

“I think that most of you have a much better understanding of the Iraqi Jewish community than I could ever have,” Zelon said to the audience, composed mostly of Iraqi Jews. “I just had the luck – good or bad – to have been there more recently than you. But the culture and the community and the way people live their lives in Iraq is something that you grew up with and something that I can’t possibly begin to understand.”

Zelon recounted her journey to Baghdad and her initial impressions of Iraq’s tiny Jewish community. “You could tell they were very fearful,” Zelon said of Baghdad’s 34 remaining Jews, whom she was able to locate only through contact information obtained from friends and relatives who had previously fled the city. “They would talk very openly about the fear of their neighbors. ‘The Muslims are coming to kill us. You can’t trust anyone,’ they would say. They are afraid to go out on the streets. Many people have not left their homes since the war.”

Despite the conditions, Zelon said that it was difficult to convince some of the Jews to leave Iraq. Many had family or businesses still in Baghdad. But others, like 79-year-old Salima Moshe, were relieved. Zelon said that when she told Moshe, whose relatives had previously fled to Israel, that she had come from Israel to bring her home, Moshe replied, “I thought everyone had forgotten about me.”

Zelon regrets that more of Baghdad’s Jews did not agree to accompany her to Israel, but that she was relieved that some decided to come. “Some people say to me, ‘You only got six people?'” Zelon said. “But those are six people whose lives will hopefully be better … hopefully we brought some dignity back to these few lives.” — Rachel Brand, Staff Writer

Waxman Rails Against Bush Administration

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) tackled domestic issues during an Aug. 17 town hall meeting at Temple Beth Am that was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) as part of its Summer of Advocacy program and the synagogue.

“I’ve never been in office at a time when partisanship has meant so much,” Waxman said.

A staunch supporter of increasing medical/social services for citizens on a fixed income, Waxman blamed the Bush administration for upping the annual deficit to $500 billion, delving into the Medicare and Social Security surplus to pay for tax cuts and offering sweetheart deals to special interests.

“Many people in the Jewish community say, ‘If this administration supports Israel, I will support it,’ but, in my view, support for Israel transcends partisanship,” he said.

Waxman cited Torah-sponsored ideals such as tzedakah, social justice and tikkun olam as necessary, but increasingly scarce, commodities in political decision making.

“Policies now are favoring special interests,” Waxman said, “and ignoring interests benefiting the general public.”

During the question-and-answer session, Waxman had clear reactions to issues such as the California recall, which he finds appalling, and the implications of the Patriot Act, which he believes will encourage federal actions that may threaten our civil liberties. Waxman offered a less specific stance to the largely elderly crowd in attendance on the nexus of senior citizens’ rights and protecting the general public good, especially in relation to modifying driving laws following the July 16 Santa Monica farmers market tragedy. — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Olmert: Invest in Israel Now

Ehud Olmert, deputy prime minister of Israel and minister of industry and trade, whose portfolio was also expanded Sunday to include communications, told local investors that now is the right time to invest in Israel. “The Israeli economy has great potential in different areas — more than high tech,” said Olmert last week during a breakfast at The Regency Club, sponsored by the Israeli Economic Mission and Southern California-Israel Chamber of Commerce. Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem, said that the government is working to make Israel more attractive to foreign investors by reducing (or eliminating) capital gains, taxes for foreign investors and by allowing products developed with Chief Scientist grants in Israel to be manufactured outside the country.

While he was in Los Angeles, Olmert also met with Stanley Gold, the head of Shamrock investments (which has invested for the last 15 years in Israeli companies like Tadiran and Pelephone). Gold committed to creating a new $120 million fund for inestment in the Israeli infrastructure. Olmert also met with Elliott Broidy, who is creating with Ron Lubash a $250 million fund for investment in Israel.

“I want investors to believe that Israel is the best place to invest in the world,” Olmert said at the breakfast, “that they can make more money in Israel than anyplace else in the world.” — Amy Klein, Managing Editor

Helpful Hints for Dad

Assuming a father already possesses his children’s love, honor and respect, what more could he wish for? How about the power of persuasion? Sure, the little critters might love us, but how can we get them to obey us?

In this quest, fathers of the English-speaking world will find a new book quite helpful — even inspiring. "Words That Shook the World: 100 Years of Unforgettable Speeches and Events," by Richard Greene with Florie Brizel (Alpha Communications), offers the annotated text of modern history’s most memorable spoken words. How did Winston Churchill get the free world to gird itself for battle with a much stronger German foe? How did former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo fire up Democrats at their 1984 convention? What did Ronald Reagan say to comfort a nation and convince its people to support future space travel following the Challenger disaster?

The book collects those speeches, as well as oratory from Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt and Lou Gehrig, among others. Yitzhak Rabin’s call for peace is here, as is Anwar Sadat’s. Finally, there is President Bush’s post-Sept. 11 address to the nation — and we forgot just how effective a speech that was.

The speeches are annotated paragraph by paragraph by Greene, an L.A.-based public speaking coach, who dissects how each address achieved its maximum impact, word by word, image by image. The authors also provide archival photos, historical background and — perhaps best of all — each book comes with a two-CD compilation of the speeches as they were delivered (though actor James Gandolfini stands in for Gehrig, and Edmund Morris for Teddy Roosevelt).

At $50, "Words That Shook the World" may be a splurge, but if it helps dad finally get his way, it’s worth it.

Richard Greene will sign his book at Barnes & Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 1 p.m., Sat., June 14.