Poor grades - and grades that dropped noticeably from the first quarter to the second - mean your son or daughter is heading toward trouble, particularly since future assignments will build on the knowledge and skills your child is supposed to have gained thus far.
Test scores are another good indicator. While it's natural for parents to simply look at the scores for the assurance that students are "measuring up," it can usually be helpful to look more closely at the areas in which your child excelled or faltered. If your child has scored at the top percentile in reading or mathematics, this should encourage you - and your child's teachers - to consider Advanced Placement or Merit courses that will make the most of these skills. Poor scores obviously call for extra attention to ensure that your child catches up before the work gets much more difficult.
Sometimes, bright students get bad grades for behavior-related activities. Does your child hand in his or her homework? Is it correct and on time? Is your child bored with schoolwork, and not paying enough attention? These are not excuses; they are symptoms of different problems. You must identify these issues before you can remedy the problems.
Another important factor is your child's study habits - and the studying environment in your home. Many parents kick off the school year by talking with teachers about how much homework they expect to assign and then set up firm schedules for "homework time" after school and in the evenings. But by mid-year, many of these schedules become a bit more flexible. If your child tends to be self-motivated and is showing strong progress, flexibility can be a good thing. If he or she is faltering, it's time to put that schedule back in place, and stick to it.
If your son or daughter received poor grades, have a frank discussion about why. Let your child know you're supportive - and that you believe in his or her abilities.
Finally, make sure your son or daughter knows that you're a watchdog for both problems and progress. Which means that the mid-year check-up should also be an opportunity to acknowledge the special skills and qualities that are unique to your child. Recognizing and nurturing all of these qualities will give your child solid footing for years to come.