It isn't always possible to have a face-to-face conference with every parent. If you can't speak to the parents in person, a progress letter allows you to update them on their child's learning, development and behavior. The exact information and format that you use may differ by school. However, a typical progress letter includes a summary of the student's performance, your expectations and how the student is measuring up to standards.

Spelling Out the Standards

Parents may not know what you're measuring their child up against. Therefore, the progress letter should provide them with applicable state standards or district benchmark assessment information. For example, if you're writing a letter to a parent of a student in your first-grade class, before you outline how the student is progressing, explain that during this year you expect your students to meet the Common Core math standards. These include solving problems using addition and subtraction, solving word problems with answers up to 20 and applying the commutative property to addition and subtraction. Clearly state each standard or benchmark goal that you use in your class. Avoid using numbers or codes. The parents won't know what CCSS.Math.Content.1OAA2 means, but they will understand "Solving word problems with three whole numbers."

Explaining the Grading System

Now that the parents understand what their children should know and what the standards are, you need to explain how you measure learning. Some schools have a preset grading system such as 90 to 100 is an "A," 80 to 89 is a "B" and so on. If you use a different type of grading system that doesn't align with percentages, let the parents know. For example, the Everett Public Schools in Washington state uses a numeric scale for academic performance and letter abbreviations for behaviors. This type of system requires that you write what each letter and number means. In Everett's case, a "4" equals exceeding expectations, a "3" means meeting goals, a "2" is approaching goals, and a "1" is below expectations. The behavior scale includes a "C" for consistently shows a behavior, an "O" for often, an "S" for sometimes and an "R" for rarely. The behaviors that Everett Public Schools evaluates include cooperation with others, participation in discussions and respect for others.

Stating the Student's Strengths First

Progress reports should include information about the student's performance across all class or curriculum areas. No parent wants to read that her child is a failure. Even if the student is struggling in some areas, make a point of stating the student's strengths before the weaknesses. For example, a student who isn't succeeding in academics may have stellar behavior, or a child who finds math a challenge may show promise as a writer.

Discussing Areas for Improvement

Before you start sounding negative, think about how you can frame problem points in a positive way. Instead of writing, "Tommy is failing math," try something along the lines of, "Tommy's low math scores concern me. This is an area for improvement that we can work on together." Follow this by providing specific examples of ways that you plan on helping the student. If you have a concern about a student's work, clearly state what strategies you've already tried to help the situation, suggests Barbara Mariconda in her article "Five Keys to Successful Parent-Teacher Communication" on the Scholastic website. Explain why you think these strategies may not have worked well thus far. Invite the parents to contact you if they have concerns or want more information on how they can help.