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School Reports

The single most important document ever. Actually, no. It’s not

Report card written on a blackboard

In most cases a school report is dished out twice a year to kids in school. Generally speaking you will find some information about the report as a whole, an explanation of the common grade scale (Usually A-E), your children’s achievement in each learning area or subject and some general comments about behaviour, approach to learning, attendance etc.

So, what should you do when your child’s report comes home? Before we answer that, let’s explain exactly what the report is for. Schools follow set guidelines about reporting to parents and carers about children’s achievements at school.

Teachers gather a variety of information on students such as tests or assessments, samples of work created throughout the year and observations. They then use their professional judgement to report on each learning area using a five point scale.

School reports are supposed to be confidential and written in plain language. School report structure and what is included will vary from school to school, state to state etc.

A graded exam paper

What to Expect with School Reports

Some reports have comments against each subject as well as an effort and achievement grade. Comments will vary from a sentence or two basically explaining what the grade stands for, to a full paragraph. Sometimes these comments aren’t personal and are just a description of what was covered in the semester in that subject. Schools may opt for these comments to be created by choosing from a bank of pre-written comments instead of writing them individually.

Alternatively comments might elaborate on how your child performed in certain aspects of the subject such as ‘Jamie has been consolidating his understanding of multiplying 2 digit numbers using a variety of strategies’. Whilst this gives you a brief insight to some of what your child has been learning, there is no way it covers everything they learn and can therefore feel token at best.

Quite often it is common to see that children acquiring ‘A’s and ‘B’s have excellent or outstanding effort, and in my experience teachers often treat a child's effort as their behaviour in the lesson although this is not always the case. Some kids can achieve ‘A’s without putting effort in as they are naturally gifted whilst others can work their butts off and still only scrape a ‘D’.

When it comes to a general comment, teachers, particularly those who write them individually tend to use the ‘praise sandwich’ method. That is when they start with a positive comment about the child, then put all the negative stuff in the middle and finally try to finish on a positive note so you’re left feeling good about it.

a bowl of sugar

Would You Pass The Sugar?

Some teachers will even ‘sugar coat’ report comments to avoid backlash from parents, particularly those who are already on the list of ‘those parents’, who are known throughout the school. It’s true to say it’s possible that grades on a school report can be ‘bumped up’ in some subjects since ultimately it’s down to a teacher’s professional judgement for certain year groups and subjects.

This is especially true in private schools where parents pay to send their kids, and some parents are under the impression that they’re paying for a teacher to make their child better and more capable than they actually are. Schools themselves can put pressure on teachers to record higher grades to make the school look better on paper. I've seen some schools literally have teachers coach classes of children how to specifically pass a given test instead of teaching them a holistic, deep understanding of the content which will serve them better for the future.

There are various moderation protocols, checks and balances in place but these are easily 'massaged' if necessary. No teacher or schools will openly admit this since it interferes with their credibility.

boy doing schoolwork

Down to Interpretation

A few years back, I was head of an independent primary school and was redesigning the entire report card structure. Now I’ve always believed using an ‘A-E’ scale is a bad idea. Not using a five point scale in general, but actually using the letters ‘A-E’ because people often think of what ‘A-E’ meant when they were children, which is not exactly the same today.

You see a ‘C’ grade is the expectation, not an ‘A’. Children receiving a ‘C’ in Maths means they have met all the necessary criteria for achievement in that subject. A ‘B’ grade means achieving beyond that expectation and an ‘A’ is exceeding beyond that expectation at a much higher level. Likewise a ‘D’ is best read as working towards that expectation and an ‘E’ basically means the child needs support.

Now as a school we were required to report on a 5 point scale, but it doesn’t have to be using the letters ‘A-E’, it’s just that most schools seem to opt for that.

I decided to replace the letters ‘A-E’ with words. So the 5 point scale looked like this:

Outstanding (A)

Achieving above expectation (B)

Achieving expectation (C)

Working towards (D)

Needs support (E)

Scrabble word tiles

In a Word

Doing that actually made a difference to the grades that teachers gave out. In the years preceding the report changes no child in lower primary (Prep -Year 2) was given ‘E’ grade for any subject. Teachers felt that it would make the child feel like a failure.

After the changes were made teachers seemed happy to give out ‘Needs support’ grades (which was the ‘E’ equivalent) because it felt more positive. So yes, teachers at times will sugar coat report comments and grades to benefit children, keep parents happy and keep school administrators happy.

When Your Child Comes Home With Their Report

First of all before you open it, let them know how proud you are of them. Ask them how they think they did. Hopefully, they already have a rough idea since reports are not supposed to be a surprise and they should have a feel for it through the assessments and coursework they have done.

Emphasise that the grades are NOT as important as the effort. I repeat, grades are NOT as important as effort. Celebrate the effort. Also celebrate the achievement, but effort is the important one. Effort will ensure they reach their full potential. It may be necessary to discuss with the teacher any concerns about their achievement you have, then working with them and what need doing to improve.

Don’t be one of ‘those’ parents who gives kids presents or money based on how many ‘A’s they got. Of course make a fuss about it. But celebrate the whole report. Working hard at school should be because they are intrinsically motivated, not motivated by rewards.

Up until they’re 15 years old, when ‘things gets real’ the grades are just an indication of how they’re doing and which areas they need to improve on. The following year they’ll likely be obsolete. Don’t believe me? Have a think and see if you remember what grades your child got on their report 2 or 3 years ago.

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