What Do We Do About Grades Going down for Middle Schooler?

Updated on March 09, 2019
E.R. asks from Milford, PA
15 answers

My daughter is 13 years old. She began this school year with high honors, a GPA of 3.5 but in 3 subjects has come down to a C from an A or B. My psychologist friend says punishments aren’t effective. She’s my one & only so we have no prior experience and have seen that talking doesn’t seem to work.

P.S. thank you all for your responses...they’ve given me some ideas of where to start...but I realized I didn’t include some details. My daughter forgets things she needs, doesn’t study, I find out about tests after the fact, doesn’t write down assignments, is very timid to ask questions of the teacher or classmates. She has difficulty with some skills in math but is in honors Science & Social Studies classes. I’ve bought her an agenda (to write assignments down), suggested she think of what she needs beforehand and she has gone for math tutoring (which helped)...but she doesn’t address these issues or make .changes.
Oh, and she LOVES electronic devices.

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So What Happened?

I want to thank everyone who took the time to read and write responses to my question, they were very helpful. I seriously considered all responses, sometimes having to take an honest look at myself, my relationship with my daughter and my parenting "style". I consider this "situation" to be a work-in-progress. I'm making a more consistent effort to follow HW assignments (they're on teachers' voicemail) and discuss with my daughter. Our school district only offers this and Remind app; we don't have access to lesson plans etc. Something that maybe needs to be remedied. She has spoken to the school social worker, who I reached out to, to talk-through any issues that may be troubling her. Her math class was, for the meantime, changed to a more basic one. She wasn't happy about it but she's calmed down and actually seems happier. She swears it was unnecessary but I've pointed out the change in her grades and how she's now less stressed and her complaining subsided. What's the result of one or all of these changes? She's much more affectionate and less argumentative.

I'm sure there'll be other issues but for the meantime all has improved and my thanks again to all of you.

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answers from San Francisco on

What's wrong with a C? Maybe middle school is harder than she's used to. Ask her about it. If everything else seems fine, she still has friends, hobbies, activities, she seems happy, etc., ask her what support she feels she needs to do well in school. You certainly don't punish a kid for a C. C means average. Not everyone is a superstar.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Dallas on

Have you really sat down and talked to her? And let her talk back? Think of it as information gathering, not judging/fussing at her.

Does she need glasses? A hearing aid? Is she being bullied? Anxiety for some other reason? Have things changed in her home life? Is she on/off new/old medications?

I’d rule out all medical, psychological, learning differences before moving to “punishment”.

But she’s old enough to give input into what’s going on. LISTEN to her. If all things check out, consider limiting screen time/friends/extra-curriculars in place of tutoring until she’s mastering the material again.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

You don't punish, especially because you have no idea what the cause is. Consequences might make sense if she's lazy and goofing off, but there are a hundred reasons why this might be happening:
depression or mood disorders
middle school adjustment, heavy workload, more individual responsibility.
missed some early concepts and now can't keep up on work that builds on that
bad teachers
communication problems between teacher and student
drugs/alcohol (and yes, it's rampant even for "good kids" - don't write this off)
vision problems
learning challenges, focus problems
disorganization, not writing down assignments, etc.
physical issues - poor sleep, poor nutrition, low iron/anemia, other exhaustion
too much TV, computer, video games, FaceTime with friends

You start with her - listening, not talking at her. Ask her what she thinks her difficulty is - not "Why are you getting bad grades?" but "It seems like it's harder for you. Why do you think that is?" Then you find out if she has talked to the teacher about which aspects of her performance are dropping - is she not turning in homework? Not studying for tests? Not participating in class? It depends on what each teacher's requirements are. Has she gone for extra help. Teacher don't coddle middle schoolers and they expect the students to step up to a higher level of responsibility - but some kids need to be taught these skills. Has she learned to speak up to the teacher and advocate for herself? Can she go after class and say, "Mr. Jones, I'm really struggling with algebra. Can you help me figure out where I'm lost? Can I come for extra help?"

Most teachers offer some extra help, either during a free period or after school. Teacher A may stay on Tuesdays, Teacher B may stay on Thursdays. Maybe your daughter needs a tutor - but first you have to find out where the stumbling block is.

Have her talk to her teachers herself. Help her role play what to say. Talk to Guidance or to the teacher yourself if this doesn't help your child.

Maybe she needs a physical and some blood work. Maybe she needs some testing. Maybe she needs some counseling because she's demoralized and depressed. It's impossible to know unless and until you have more info.

But a sudden drop in grades is cause for investigation, not condemnation and blaming that lead you to think of punishments.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I agree with Jennifer T. Grades go down for a reason. Ask your daughter why she thinks they went down. Be empathic. Be kind and be sure she knows you're asking because you love her. If you showed your anger earlier, apoligize. Often frustration sounds like anger. At 13, she should be treated respectfully in a way that let's her know that she has a voice in her life. It's easy for parents to continue treating a teen as a child

Ask her what she thinks she needs to raise her grades. Give the problem back to her. Stop nagging and giving lectures.

Accept that grades are her responsibily and that C grades in middle school is not going to mean she will continue to have grades lower than an A or a B.

Your daughter is now a teen. Punishment to be affective needs to teach the teen how to change their behaviour.

I prefer using the word consequences because recognizing the connection between choice and consequences is important for the rest of her life.
I suggest reading Love and Logic for teens.the authors show how to have a good relationship with your teen and how to provide consequences that teach instead of punish. Look at their web site.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Math gets harder as they go along. Some subjects are really tough for kids to grasp and then if they fall behind, it's hard for them to catch up. They can become overwhelmed. Depending on the kid's personality, they may just give up. Throw in the towel.

She may not like the teacher or feel intimidated. She may feel she is letting you down. She may feel anxious.

She may just not be that strong in math - and had been, and this may be upsetting to her. Some kids just avoid handling things when upset. So she may not be getting help where you would think she would. She may like the tutor (that environment) but class may be going too quickly.

One of my kiddos did great in elementary (we thought was a rockstar) then come middle school - average. I think that's quite common. Same with the leap to high school. It gets harder and harder. Math gets hard. For some. It's not the end of the world. As others mentioned, a C in math is absolutely ok for some kids. It's where they 'should' be.

Even if they do better in other subjects.

If she's giving it her all, has tutor and is organized (help her if she needs help - but really, the tutor can help her with this - our tutor has) - and you've talked to the teacher (we did on parent teacher day) - to figure out where your kid can improve .. then that's all you can do. Observe your kid in action at home and you can kindly help - I've provided a binder when I saw notes all over the place ... and some organization tips that helped me.

I also stepped in and said "let's get this done before Fortnight" (to an older kid than yours). He appreciated it. Some kids do have a hard time with time management. I'm still helping mine with that. They do have to learn it themselves ... but we're the parents .. if they need help, they need help. Gradually get them to own it. Nothing wrong with getting her into a routine. Mine do work at a set time, and I still say "ok homework time". It's ok.

Good luck :)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

There are good ideas here on helping her with organization, but I just want to add that the most important thing is to keep a close relationship with her during her teens years, and don't stress the grades too much. It is normal for many children to struggle with organization at this age, and many middle schools don't do a great job of really recognizing this developmental stage and it's challenges. Two of my kids did just fine, but my oldest really struggled, and it had nothing to do with anything but readiness and motivation. He wasn't really interested in much of what was going on in middle school, but he was always interested in learning, so we primarily supported that, although I wasted a lot of worry on what the future would hold for him.

He really struggled during middle school, and some of his teachers were so negative with him that he didn't really recover until college. He has an advanced degree now with a good job, and more importantly he's a good man. Although he still struggles with certain organizational skills, he knows how to compensate for that. Once he was in charge of his own learning, he figured out what he needed to do and did it. Interestingly, my middle son, who had no trouble at all with schools/grades/organization, is a musician. Each person has their own path.

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answers from Washington DC on

it's pretty common to excel in some subjects and not others. i was like your daughter- math has always been my achilles heel.

i'm glad your psychologist friend piped up. punishing kids for struggling in school is about the worst thing you can do.

but you CAN help her organize (not do it for her), role play with her to help her gain confidence in speaking up in class, find fun devices and help her brainstorm some fun mini-rewards for carving out study time, and thinking through her own psychological motivations.

but mostly you need to listen. what's her best way of opening up? for my kids it was car rides. something about the physical proximity without eye contact really worked for unlocking the inner turmoils. but you can't probe and dig- just float an occasional leading question out there, then really clam up and let it percolate. you might be surprised at what comes back.


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answers from Santa Fe on

Our son got behind in middle school and had not turned in a bunch of assignments and so his grades went down. We took away his phone and each night he had to play catch up. It was all math. He hated it. It took him about 2 weeks until he got everything done and turned in. Did you talk to her teachers? Here the assignments are all online so a student can log in and look it up if they forgot to write it down. Really, you are going to have to take away the electronics until she puts in some effort and catches up. That's my advice. Also, somehow or other she needs to start learning executive functioning skills. Try to find a class in this that she can take. Our middle school and high school both have a class in this. PS - Our son learned we mean business and he will still have to do the work if he gets behind and since then he has not done this again. It was pure torture for him and he does not want to get behind again.

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answers from Springfield on

Your daughter is struggling because she hasn't learned good study skills. It takes time to learn them, and it's difficult without someone helping you along the way. That's where you come in. You have to teach her. Help her find a good, quiet place to do her homework, and make homework time part of your daily routine.

Your psychologist friend is right. Punishing her isn't going to work, partly because she doesn't even know what it is that she is doing wrong or what she should be doing. So teach her.

"My daughter forgets things she needs, doesn’t study, I find out about tests after the fact, doesn’t write down assignments ... "

This is totally normal behavior for 6th grade (just reassuring you that lots of 6th graders are still learning). One of the best things you can do here is ask her about this every night. "What did you do in English today? Anything due tomorrow? Any tests/quizzes coming up? Any papers/projects? What did you do in Math today? Anything due tomorrow? Any tests/quizzes coming up?" Do that for every class she's in. Make asking those questions part of your daily routine. She'll begin to do that for herself.

Keep in mind that you should already know the answers to all those questions. Your school's website should include an area where all the teachers post their lesson plans. Our teachers update them each weekend so that by Monday morning we can know what is going on that week - what they are doing in class each day, homework, tests, projects, presentations, etc.

If you aren't sure where the lesson plans are, just email one of the teachers and ask. I'm sure they will point you in the right direction. If your school doesn't do this (they really should, and you should suggest that they begin to offer this for parents) ask each teacher to give you a list of what's coming up so that you can help your daughter.

These are learned skills. She isn't going to master them right away. That's ok, thought, because she's only in 6th grade. Middle School grades are just for practice. This is the time for her to learn from her struggles and experience so that by the time she begins high school she has master some or all of those skills.

This is the time for her to learn those study skills. Just keep helping her learn.

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answers from Chicago on

Have you considered a previously undiagnosed learning disability? Especially in smart kids, they learn all kinds of natural coping mechanisms that can keep stuff from coming to light in an early grade but the extra demands that start in junior high can make it seem like problems are coming on all of a sudden. Also, do you have anyone in your family with ADD/ADHD/other types of executive function disorder? Some relatively simple testing it would help rule these two issues out – I know that seems complicated it may be expensive depending on your insurance situation. I would suggest setting aside a certain time of day – maybe right after dinner - where she spends 15 minutes organizing herself for the evening, and the next morning. Everything from getting the clothes out for the next day to making decisions about packing lunch. That’s a good time to go back and doublecheck that homework is done and packed up and ready to be turned in the next day. I’m pretty sure flylady has a “fly lady for teens” type program that might be something she would connect with.

If it’s only math that’s the problem, I would highly recommend getting some extra support over the summer. You don’t need to call it tutoring. It doesn’t even really need to be re-medial in nature – just different. Mathnasium and Kumon are both excellent programs in my area. I suspect that if she put a couple hours in every week over the summer she would strengthen her math skills sufficiently that next year would be much easier. Sometimes kids just need a different teacher, or a different setting, or to have the material presented in a different way for it to all click.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Why are they down? Is she working hard but struggling to understand the concepts? Is she suddenly more interested in her social life than her grades and not doing her work at all? Can she do the work but is lacking organizational skills and forgets to turn in homework?

You have to have some idea why before you decide on a next step. If you know why, maybe you can elaborate on your question. Then we can try to help a bit more.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You need to get the teachers involved. Schedule meetings with each teacher. You need to help her get organized.
Do they write the assignments on the board? Does she copy them into her agenda? Is she talking instead of listening? Do the teachers post the assignments on their school web pages? Where can you get the information?
Study skills are learned. You need to help her.



answers from Indianapolis on

Talk to her teachers. Middle school can be overwhelming. They have so much stuff to carry and to remember. They only have so much time in between classes. My daughter complains that she doesn't have time to go to the bathroom. The stress alone can cause grades to tumble. With my daughter I talked to the teachers in the classes that she was struggling with. She is in advanced classes as well. She was embarrassed to ask questions just like your daughter. I asked that her teachers call on her more to answer questions. This is a tip I got from a teacher. After the teachers started calling on her she realized she knew more than she thought she did. Her math teacher, math is her biggest struggle, said she would work with her more. This has helped. She is doing better and is opening up more. I told her if she was having problems other kids are too and she has found this to be true. She has had kids thank you for asking questions that they were too afraid to ask. I found punishing wasn't helping either so work with the teachers and you should see a difference. Good luck!



answers from San Antonio on

This is my DDs first year of middle school and I see a lot of the things you describe and her grades have fallen a bit lower than normal. It happened with my son as well in 7th grade not in 6th.

I learned punishment didn't help real quick...oops! My son uses his phone to take pictures of the agenda on the board each day...but his school loves the kids to use technology and encourage this. I couldn't do that I love my paper planner but he just scrolls to the class he needs to remember a quiz date. I did get him a big paper calendar/desk blotter for his room and I do notice he has started using it a bit to lay out long term plans. My daughter is a work in progress...I think the teachers still scare her a bit and having to go in early or stay late for tutoring or make up work is off putting to her. Her test and quiz grades are lower than her classwork but she has discovered they ask fewer questions and have stricter time limits to complete them than in elementary. I think she will level out by next year. My son has really buckled down this year in prep for high school next year.

I am trying to think of middle school as the training period to get ready for high school. Then helping each of my kids find what works for them as far as being prepared and speaking up for themselves. Good luck!!



answers from Cleveland on

If she's drawn to these electronic devices, she could easily trend toward a career while she's enjoying this kind of thing. It would be nice to have a career doing something she loves. If you want to discipline her study schedule, take away the electronic toys till she gets her homework done. This might motivate her to do her homework

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