For most children, middle school is a big jump to a new school with many more kids. When your child reaches this age, you may transition to a more hands-off approach, preferring to let your kid navigate socially and academically with more independence. You may not even worry about your child’s middle school grades, remembering the social and emotional mess middle school can be.
Any temptation you have to ease off your child’s grades now they’ve reached middle school may be a big mistake. Just because colleges don’t look at middle school transcripts doesn’t mean middle school grades don’t matter, say the experts at the Chicago-based academic tutoring and test prep company, Academic Approach.
Middle school grades matter
Wherever you live in Chicagoland — city or suburbs — your child’s middle school grades are important.
“The middle school years serve as a litmus test for how your child is doing academically and how motivated they are to do well,” says Carla Pedersen, Regional Director with Academic Approach.
If you live in Chicago and want your child to attend a selective enrollment high school, be aware that admission relies equally on how they perform on the CPS High School Admissions Exam and the letter grades they earn in seventh grade.
Here’s an important point: depending on your geographical location in the city, your child may need to earn straight As in all core subjects in seventh grade to be considered for a selective enrollment high school.
Suburban middle schoolers who plan to attend their community high school also need top grades to be placed into the high school classes of their choice.
Both situations put your child in a competitive position for attending the college of their choice, so their middle school grades do, in fact, matter.
Learning how to learn
Even if you are not overly concerned about your child’s letter grades, middle school is the time for students to build study skills and continue “learning how to learn” when presented with increasingly difficult academic material, Pedersen says.
“For your child, this is the time to learn to prioritize where to focus their energy. They can gain an understanding of why they are or are not succeeding,” she explains. “They may be putting in the work, but if they aren’t self-reflective or getting guidance about what or how to study, they may not be taking a path that is beneficial.”
First-time middle school parents may be surprised by this shift in expectations, says Andrew Ferguson, Director of Client Services with Academic Approach.
“Students find themselves in a school with hundreds if not thousands of students. Two seconds ago, they were just a kid enjoying recess with classmates they’ve known their entire lives, and now they’re walking locker-filled hallways with new peers, facing the new expectations of new teachers. That transition isn’t easy so it’s important to know how to survive academically. Teachers won’t always hold their hand,” Ferguson says.
How to support your child academically
Your child may be asking for more independence socially, but academically, middle school is a time for students to begin to not only test their own knowledge but also master how to study. It’s also a time to develop executive functioning — so they remember to bring their homework to school after they complete it.
The level of support your middle schooler may suddenly need can be difficult to fit into the already overwhelming life of a parent. Working with an academic tutor can help your child build a foundation of skills needed in middle school and beyond.
If you believe academic tutoring exists just to help students who are falling behind, consider reframing your belief. “With younger students, the tutor’s role is not to teach a subject matter, but to help them learn how to manage their workloads and make plans,” Ferguson says.
The academic content is simply the framework for addressing these important — and lifelong — learning skills. “Many students benefit from the one-on-one nature of tutoring,” Pedersen says. “Sometimes the student benefits from a new voice or point of view, but a lot of times the student benefits most from the discovery and understanding of what wasn’t working.”
Parents whose children have worked with tutors at Academic Approach remark on the benefit. “It’s that extra piece of engagement and help to keep their child focused and keep that part of their brain engaged,” Ferguson says.
Your first step is to call Academic Approach. “If you’ve identified your child’s challenges, that’s great. More often than not, parents send us in the right direction, but we learn so much from talking with the student,” says Pedersen. “Identifying challenge is the first step, then we see what options there are and come up with a plan.”
Starting early to help students adjust to middle school expectations and build confidence is key.
“It’s so important for your child to understand what they should be working on and improving,” she adds. “Improving those skills will improve their grades.”
Learn more about Academic Approach. Visit academicapproach.com.