When Susan and Bob King's twins were 7, their school grades began to dive. The Kings were especially alarmed when they realized their daughters couldn't read very well. They were surprised, because until then the children's report cards indicated they were doing well.
"In first grade, we were told the girls were doing fine," says Susan King, 33, an executive secretary on a temporary leave from work. "Then in second grade their teacher called me (and said) they were doing horribly. She wanted to keep them back."
Shocked and worried, the Kings, who live in Garden Grove, went to the private school and met with the teacher.
"We asked her what we could do to improve the situation and if there were any tutors she would suggest," King says. "The teacher gave us no suggestions whatsoever. It was very frustrating."
After that experience, the Kings pulled their children from the school and placed them in Lawrence Elementary School, a public school in Garden Grove.
"We've had great luck since we changed schools," says Bob King, 37, a machine shop foreman. "The teachers and principal at the elementary school the girls now attend have been much more communicative and helpful than (at) their prior school. The teachers have been willing to work with us, and, as a result, the girls (now 9) have really turned around."
The Kings' experience illustrates how important it is that parents and teachers work together to ensure that children reach their educational potential, says Sharon Crosby, a licensed educational psychologist in Irvine who works as a bilingual psychologist for the Westminster school district one day a week.
"When it comes to improving a child's school performance and grades, parents and teachers must work together with a common goal in mind," she says.
Though most parents don't expect their kid's grades to drop, it does happen. Common causes of declining grades include reaction to conflict at home, a recent move, divorce and death.
Medical problems such as attention deficit disorder, sight or hearing problems and allergies can also be the cause. Some kids haven't learned appropriate study habits in earlier grades, while others purposely do badly to avoid being labeled a "smack" (a brainy student) by peers.
"If parents keep abreast of how and what their children are doing in school, though, when problems appear, they can usually be dealt with quickly," says Kathleen Janiec, a fourth-grade teacher at Lawrence Elementary.
"Problems arise when parents are out of touch with their children's teachers and school experience," she says. "Parents need to be a part of the equation. Showing up for conferences and helping with homework is imperative. Educating children is not just the school's job; problems occur when parents take that attitude."
The school system must also do its part, Janiec acknowledges. "Teachers need to notice problems and contact parents," she says.
"Don't assume things are going well with your kid's education if you don't hear anything," Bob King warns. "It's imperative that you stay in touch with their teachers."
The Kings were especially impressed when Lawrence Elementary called a meeting one evening to discuss how to improve the performance of one of their daughters. The meeting consisted of their daughter's teacher, the school principal, school district psychologist and school board members.
"My husband and I were amazed that they went to such lengths to help our daughter," Susan King says. "After the meeting, the teacher apologized for doing it, but we were thankful."
Susan King says her biggest mistake had been treating school like day-care.
"I would drop them off at school in the morning and pick them up at night and assumed everything was OK," she says. "The truth is, you can't treat teachers like baby-sitters. You need to participate in (the children's) education."
When a problem does arise with a child's grades, it's best to deal with it immediately, Janiec says. "The longer you wait, the more complex the situation becomes. Once the grades start to drop, it's a downward spiral."
It's best to deal with a drop in grades as quickly as possible. Gail, who asked that her last name not be used, moved with her husband and daughter to Orange County when her daughter was in seventh grade. Her grades immediately dropped from A's and Bs to Bs and then Cs. Teachers commented that their daughter talked too much and didn't pay attention.
Instead of immediately reacting to the situation, though, Gail and her husband decided to step back and let her work things out.
"We thought she just needed time to adjust to the new school and then she'd get back on track, especially as she got closer to high school, because her two older sisters have always done well academically," says Gail, 52, who works in the mental health field.
By ninth grade, though, their daughter's grades had dropped even more, and she showed no signs of improving. Instead, she seemed more concerned about socializing and hanging out with the in crowd.
Gail and her husband tried meeting with their daughter's teachers to discuss the problem, but only one teacher seemed interested. They considered pulling her out of public school and placing her in a private college-preparatory school.
After they asked her about going to a private school, their daughter said she realized she was in trouble and didn't feel like she could get back on track in public high school.
Now as a junior with a demanding academic schedule, Gail's daughter is doing well. But the road back hasn't been easy. She had to repeat 10th grade.
"The minute they see a change in grades, parents should go see the teacher and take the child with them," Gail says.
To prevent grades from diving in the first place, or to ensure noticing once it starts, it's important for parents to participate in school activities as much as possible, says Janiec, who has taught at all grade levels over the past 20 years.
"Although it's a lot of work to be involved with school activities and to oversee children's homework, it's important," she says. "Children are proud and happy when their parents are involved."
Creating a positive educational experience atmosphere in the home is also critical.
"Children are like sponges," Janiec says. "If they see that school and teachers are spoken of well in the home, they will respect and value education."
Nina Cardon, 41, has four children in their teens. All have had their share of educational ups and downs. She says that the problems have been minor and short-lived, however, because she and her husband have instilled a respect for education and have kept a close eye on their children's progress.
"When they were younger, we talked about how important it is to be able to get good grades so they can get a higher education and a good job," says Cardon, who lives in Garden Grove and works at home as a free-lance clothing pattern maker.
"Our kids have always thought grades were important and know we expect them to do well."
To get across the message about good education, Cardon says, respecting the school and teachers is important.
"Parents should support the teachers and what they are doing, even when they don't always completely agree," she says. "Kids need educational continuity."
The Cardons also keep tabs on their kids' schoolwork and assist whenever necessary. Their daughter, 17, has had problems with math, so they often help her do homework.
"It's important with something like geometry to stay on top of it, because it only takes a week to get completely lost," Cardon says. "Although it takes time and patience on the part of the parents, overseeing homework really helps your kids."