When Susie comes home and says, "Mrs. So-and-So hates me," she may mean that Mrs. So-and-So gave her a B on the most recent test. An adult advisor can help sort out the daily conflicts and misunderstandings that are a staple of middle-school life. A good litmus test: Are teachers involved in advising (at least informally)? One or two overworked guidance counselors can't do the job alone.
Communication with Parents
Ideally, parents would get a written narrative on each child's progress at least once or twice per semester. They usually content themselves with a report card that, if they're lucky, includes a few one-size-fits-all messages, such as "a pleasure to have in class." A crucial detail is the school's policy, if any, with respect to communication with parents when students are experiencing academic difficulty.
There is only one ironclad rule for parents of middle schoolers -- keep a sense of humor. You know that a middle-school child will drive you crazy at times, and it might as well be with a smile on your face.