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.