The Perils of Sending Report Cards Home

sending report cards homeSomething many teachers and pediatricians have long suspected to be true is that child abuse incidents increase when report cards go home. They’re right, a University of Florida (UF) research team has found—but only when report cards go home on Fridays.

UF research scientist Melissa Bright, a NEA Higher Ed member, was talking last year with a UF pediatrician whose patients include victims of abuse or neglect. “He said to me, ‘there’s this idea that when the report cards go out, our patient load goes up,’” Bright recalls. “And then I also talked to some teachers who said, ‘oh yeah, we hate sending home report cards. We know some kids are not going to have a good experience.’”

“So I said, ‘Let’s look for data.’” says Bright.

After comparing a year’s worth of Florida child abuse cases to the dates that report cards were sent home with students, the UF team found a correlation—but only on Fridays. In fact, cases of child abuse, verified by the state’s Department of Children and Families, were four times higher on Saturdays following a report card. When report cards were sent home earlier in the week, no increase was found. Their study was published in December in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

A simple answer—maybe too simple—might be to send report cards earlier in the week, says Bright. “If it’s really just something that happens on Fridays because of something about Fridays, then maybe we could move it earlier. But because we don’t know why it’s happening on Friday, it’s possible we might just move the cases to an earlier day.”

Fridays often are pay days, she notes. Fridays also may kick off a weekend of substance abuse. Or it could be the day that some children switch homes, if their parents live apart. Do any of these things matter? Researchers can’t say for certain.

“I think it’s also important to figure out the nature of report cards,” says Bright. “This is speculation—but I don’t think this is just about bad grades. In elementary school, the report cards include grades and also behavior reports. Parents tend to be more punitive about bad behavior. If the card says the kid is acting up, or not paying attention, I think those are the things that upset parents.”

With that in mind, a more sustainable intervention to prevent abuse—but one that requires more work from parents and educators—is increased, more constant communication between school and home. “It’s not that teachers need to keep an eye on parents, or help them do their job better, but everybody should understand that their shared goal is to help the kid succeed,” says Bright.

Some NEA local affiliates have worked to improve communication through teacher-home visits. Others are making sure that parent-teacher conferences are well-planned and effective.

“The idea is to put everybody on the same page,” says Bright.