Why it’s time to say goodbye to report comments

Over the break I spent a lot of time catching up with family and friends, enjoying the festive season.  It seemed that everyone I caught up with had something to say about their child’s school report coming home without comments.

Due to the Australian Education Union’s latest stage of industrial action, many Victorian teachers chose at the end of last year to ban any written comments and numerical assessment data on student reports.

Being a teacher, I was frequently asked my opinion, and many were surprised by my response (which by the way is nothing to do with the ban).Reports are futile and irrelevant and we should have been preparing parents for the demise of them long before now.

Like a good little teacher I always did reports because I was told to and because teachers always have. But what exactly is the purpose? The Department of Education in Victoria (DEECD) say ‘assessment and reporting are vital processes which provide information about what students know and can do, and to make recommendations for their future learning.’ If this is so – then why do we wait until the last day of the semester or school year to share this?

Reports

So here are my 5 reasons why reports should go.

1.  A bi yearly report is a poor way to communicate a student’s achievement.  Feedback to students and parents should be consistent throughout the year and not in a paragraph written on a piece of paper which is handed to a student to deliver, sealed,  to their parent like a messenger. It should be individual, centred toward the student and personable.

2. What good can come from statements like ‘improve his punctuation and use of tenses, and continue to widen the range of sentence structures that s/he uses?’ How can this mean anything to parents or a student when the context is missing?  It is without personality, individuality or explanation of what the teacher means.

3. The policy and expectations surrounding reports force them to be generic. Over the years I have been at schools where the style guide and protocols for the writing of reports is 5 pages long.  How can this promote individual feedback when teachers are forced to write exactly 5 lines on reading?

4. Written, generic and delayed feedback is certainly not efficient yet we continue the tradition.  Each year the expectations of reports seem to increase.  When I pulled out my school reports from my first year of school they were a single handwritten piece of paper, which we received once a year.  I got an A for using scissors correctly and tying my shoelaces but I only got a B for finishing what I started and cleaning up after activities! I expect that changes be made since the time I finished school but who is asking the why?  What more do parents get from a report card now other than an increase in jargon and some lines on a graph?

5. The school report as a momento is outdated.  I know I have kept my reports from school but I would much prefer to be looking at different learning activities I completed with my own reflection and feedback specific to the task.  Feedback which I knew I received with teacher at the time of learning, not afterwards written in a letter to my Mum. I know many schools use this approach of a portfolio but it often falls by the wayside because on top of the portfolio they are still expected to spend hours writing reports comments.

10 thoughts on “Why it’s time to say goodbye to report comments”

  1. Interesting comment. I have thought similar thoughts for a while. While perhaps making more work for teachers (but maybe not with well set-up systems) making regular (and short?) and meaningful (and in context) comments during the school year would be much more meaningful. This should be possible with school ‘portals’/ online access.
    Regular comments would enable parent/student/.teacher conversations to take place where it can actually make a difference.
    Our school is currently undertaking a major initiative involving formative practice (and teaching teams with class observations), where teachers (and hopefully students) are continually making adjustments to meet curriculum objectives and this should involve regular feedback (two-way). One of our main issues is how all this works with our current four reporting periods (interim and end of semester) and lots of summative assessment.

    1. Hi Tony,

      Thanks for your comment. I think there is a big myth with making more work for teachers. There should be enough time in a week for teachers but we are continually wasting our time with tasks which are outdated, irrelevant and done because we always have.

      I always laugh at this time of the year when teachers are busy collecting assessment to check off the assessment schedule. Most of it goes in a file and isn’t looked at again because it is not useful. (I know that this isn’t the case at every school but I know the schools I have worked at it is) If we focussed on what we believe to be the best assessment, which gives you the most information we have plenty of time to analyse it correctly and use it to teach! It is very much the same with reports.

      Sadly when schools try new ways to do things they are still expected to do reports. No wonder schools don’t want to be innovative. I hope your new initiative goes well.

      Mel

  2. Hi Mel,

    It sounds like you have been having the same discussions as me. Personally I would prefer to talk to parents throughout the year and have a portfolio of what the students have achieved. As a parent too I would prefer this. Report comments don’t tell parents anything. I wonder if this is the beginning of changes to be made to reports?

    Love your post.

    Belinda

    1. Hi Belinda,

      Thanks for your comment. And is great to hear that from a parent too. I know my sister was upset to see no comments but it wasn’t really about the reports but the fact that it was a tradition. I definitely think that it is time to start making new traditions and we have so many great techno tools that will help us to do that so hopefully we will soon see some changes. Or at least people asking the question – Why?

      Mel

  3. Hi all,
    We are entering a new phase/era in Education, the e-learning way with web2.0 tools and 1to1 programs , however we fail communicate with parents/guardians on a regular basis. Once a semester for a whole five minutes during parent-teacher interviews and a generic report that goes home to parents to inform them of their learning, which most don’t understand anyway. It is time to involve parents especially in the upper primary and secondary years so they are fully informed of their child’s progress throught the term and eliminate the mandatory reporting as the Department calls it. The Ultranet which is a really good platform failed to engage teachers, due to its complexities. There many alternatives just to name a few wikispaces, edmodo, schoology, that are simple to use and keep parents and teachers informed. So lets give e-learning a fair chance to achieve better results and stay connected.
    Peter

    1. Hi Peter,

      Thanks for your comment. I too agree there are so many tools out there that could allow us to achieve this authentic connection with parents and students. I do believe that the Ultranet could be a great tool for this. Complex it can be, but I think the demise of it was that teachers were expected to be using learning tasks to report to students and parents but also expected to continue the reporting regime. As someone who used learning tasks I ended up giving up because I couldn’t sustain both.

      We certainly have the tools now to allow us to achieve this and with the right communication with parents and students we could easily implement this change. If only the policy of mandatory reporting was so flexible.

      Mel

  4. As a parent I’ve realised just how bad most schools and teachers are communicating to parents. It seems to me that most things that most schools and most teachers do on the communication front is to minimise interaction with parents and minimise problems. The fallout from the lack of report comments (which I think was a bad move by the union) stems from this, with parents feeling that one of their few chances to find out how their child is doing at school was taken away.

    I also think cyber-safety workshops are a result of general poor communication. Schools don’t communicate with parents but rely on the understanding that “you went to school, you know what happens here.” Therefore anytime schools do anything non-traditional they feel they need to make a big fuss so the parents don’t freak out. If there was “proper” communication with parents I don’t think we’d see these workshops.

    1. Hi Richard,

      I agree that schools and teachers continue to put up a wall when it comes to communication. I wonder what it is that makes them want to hide from communication? Do you think it is past experiences, tradition or fear of the time it might take? I believe there is an aspect of a viscous circle where teachers feel like they are continually under scrutiny from parents because they don’t trust the teacher as a professional but they would be more trusted if they were more open in communication.

      And just to make it clear I don’t believe this is a parent problem or fault at all. Parents should expect communication from their schools. I just wish schools could better deliver this communication. I think we owe it to our students.

      Mel

  5. Hi Mel,
    Interesting post and most of which I agree with. Looking at your photo of (I’m assuming) your own reports from when you were a primary student, reminds us of how little reporting our teachers had to do compared to what we do now. And did our parents complain?
    My sisters children (grades 3 and 5) received only their VELS dots last semester as both their teachers participated in the workplace bans. However, each teacher put together a nice suprise for them by giving them each an informal class photo with a short handwritten and very personailised message regarding their year of school. My sister said that these were the best reports she had ever received for her children. This goes to show that our parents value something much more personal and minimal than the current educational jargon that is written about their child that some don’t even bother reading! Time for a change.

    1. HI Emma,

      Yes, they are my reports and they are certainly minimilist compared to the 10,000 words plus that I wrote in my last lots of reports. I remember when we swapped over from hand written reports to computer ones. At the time I thought it would be a huge time saver. But it seems that all it did was allow leaders to expect more of us. That is not a smart way to work.

      That is a lovely idea to share a personalised message and a photo. Every year I write Christmas cards to students with a personal message. It is always lovely to watch their faces light up when they know it was just for them.

      It certainly is time for a change!

      Mel

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