Before student report cards were available in Spanish, parent Antonia Albarado thought a capital “I” meant “excellent.”

“But it wasn’t. It was ‘Incomplete,’” she said through a translator.

“I thought my children were doing better than they were,” echoed parent Juana Ordaz. “But now that they’re in Spanish, I understand.”

This fall marked the first time that Shelby County Schools translated report cards into Spanish. About 20,000 students in the Memphis district come from households where English is not the language spoken at home, or about one in five students, according to the district’s community resource guide for parents. Most of those students come from Spanish-speaking homes.

Report card translation was one of the top issues raised by advocacy groups in the spring as district officials prepared their budget for the current school year. Now that Spanish-speaking parents can read their children’s progress reports, advocates expect parent involvement to increase.

“We knew that translating a document was not going to be the solution to everything,” said Genie Arcila, a former English as a Second Language teacher who advocated for the report card translations. “But also we knew it would open the door to language access and welcoming families.”

Welcoming families is especially important for district officials to highlight because Shelby County Schools is still under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education following 2016 allegations that officials were diverting immigrant students to adult classes rather than enrolling them in traditional high schools.

Since then, Shelby County Schools has bolstered its services for Spanish-speaking parents by adding translation support, community outreach, and an academy to help migrant high school students transition into classes. Arcila said schools know which households need translations based on registration forms that ask which languages are spoken at home.

The district also has about two dozen “bilingual cultural mentors” who translate school materials and act as liaisons between non-English speaking parents and the school community.