Student Reports: a case for change

This is a copy of a post I wrote on my company’s website

Well its November again and on the school calendar for teachers all over Australia is the preparation of the end of year student reports. Schools become stress centres for teachers.

I’m wanting to build a case for change to student reports as I’m not sure the hours teachers spend on reports and some of the hidden consequences are worth the information parents receive or think they receive.

Firstly the case based on hours:

According to a recent newspaper column teachers work around 53 hrs per week (about 22 contact hrs). This union claim from my experience becomes a certainty around student reporting time. Those hours are usually spread over 4 1/2 days during the working week and a long session one day over the weekend. Besides the student contact hours teachers are generally expected to attend 2 meetings per week (3-5 hrs), yard supervision (1 hr), extra curricula activities like sports, music and camps averaged over a week (2-3 hrs), parent meetings – not counting school councils (1-2 hrs) and finally classroom preparation and correction time varies (15-18 hrs). While these hours don’t always add up to 53 per week they do when you add student reports.

Primary teachers on average suggest it takes between 2-4 hrs per student report. If you have an average class size of 25 then it’s between 50 and 100 hrs over a 3 week block. The only way this task can be completed is if the class preparation and extra curricula activities are heavily reduced or indeed cut out while these reports are completed. I sometimes wonder if parents really understand the cost of this minimal classroom preparation and assessment period. I did when I saw some text-book, duplicated sheet work start to appear in classrooms instead of small group interventions and conferences where student feedback was at its best but hey who sees this cost.

Then there’s the case about the real parent information.

The student reports in their current format usually consist of a grading or mark (A-E) and some summative comments. The student mark is usually averaged over several smaller assessments with the teacher making a professional judgement. I think Dylan Wiliam says it better than me on the value or otherwise of marks:

On the topic of communicating student achievement, the academic said ‘we’ve actually basically lied to parents that the information we’re giving them is useful and meaningful … these grades that we give to students, really don’t tell parents anything at all’.

He recalled a conversation with one parent during his time as a mathematics teacher in London. ‘He was pushing me to tell him what “position” his child was in the class – his “rank” in the class. I resisted and resisted, and eventually I gave in and I said “okay, he’s in the top three, but it’s the worst class I’ve ever taught. So, now what do you think you know?”

‘The point is, that parents think As and Bs and Cs and Ds are meaningful, but what we should be asking the parents is: “Now, what do you think you know about your child now that I’ve told you he’s got an A?” And the answer is “nothing”, so I think there’s been a bit of dishonesty here, because we’ve pretended to parents that these grades are meaningful, and they’re really not.’

Teacher Magazine

I read with interest that one school Nossal High School (at least) has done away with marks or grades on student reports.

So now we are left with the summative comments. I suppose it doesn’t surprise many that most report systems have large comment banks which the teachers select from to describe student performance. Some of the comments in the bank just describe the tasks without analysing the performance. Parents are often over heard to say does the teacher really know my child.

Then there’s the teacher self-image here as well. Teachers want parents to think they have worked hard with their child so if they fill the page or section with comments to provide that impression. Despite word limits or section limits in the computerised reports I still struggled with teachers padding reports to give this impression.

So what’s the change?

I tried to flip the assessment periods in a school so that it was used to discover the next steps in learning for a child. The teacher, usually within a team, then developed the key goals for the next 5 months. These learning goals were shared with the student so it was transparent. Often these discussions were confirmations as the child shook their head and said “yer I know I don’t understand or can’t do that so that’s good”, sometimes the student even added to the goals with “can I then learn this then”.

These goals were shared with parents at interviews and on paper. Then for the next 5 months the teacher developed appropriate tasks and provided students with specific feedback on the learning intentions. Students in turn then asked many more questions.

Reports then were a summary of progress towards those specific goals – if achieved then celebrated with new goals to be set soon afterwards.

This then became transparent and meaningful for all. The cycle was then repeated for the second semester.

Now there were lost of twists and turns, challenges and setbacks in this change and it was a solution in progress. But for most it was an improvement and it took less teacher time to prepare so there were winners there as well.

If your interested to know more please contact me for a discussion.