In a recent edition of The Conversation, I noticed the following article that may be of interest to the Barker community. “How to talk to your child about their school report”.
The article discusses what the A to E grades mean and how to interpret the modern school reporting method. The old days of the handwritten report card signed by the teacher have been replaced by sophisticated data batches that contain many pages of syllabus outcomes and indicators of student progress on a wide range of skills as measured against prescribed standards. Is it any wonder that parents can become overwhelmed and uncertain when presented with so much detail but so little of it capturing real feedback about their child? Schools are obliged to use a five-point grading scale such as A to E or the equivalent. Some schools favour using words like “excellent” to represent Grade A, and “basic” to describe Grade E.
Reports have three main purposes:
i. To affirm achievements – demonstrating what a child CAN do.
ii. Encourage progress – identify areas for support, attention or improvement
iii. Celebrate character and contribution – recognise and honour the contribution a student is making to the life of the community, especially through co-curricular or cultural engagement
Reports are NOT to assist with gaining part time employment. Reports are NOT character references in that sense. They are provided to parents/guardians/caregivers and therefore generally are not addressed to the student about whom the report is being prepared. It is important, therefore, to read a report knowing these three main purposes.
Ranking students against one another might be of interest, but rarely helps. The only way in which a rank is useful is where is illustrates the strength of attaining a standard. The School uses ranks to determine some prizes at Celebration events but gives (almost) equal weight to effort grades. Our academic tracking of students links effort and achievement on an X/Y grid to tracking progress over time. The correlation of higher achievement with greater effort is self-evident. Therefore, recognising effort is the right way to go.
Being positive and honour progress.
Childhood is the most tested, scrutinised and evaluated time of a person’s life. It is also the most vulnerable. We have to be extremely careful about conveying positive messages and expressing constructive criticism in hopeful and supportive language. The best way to do this is to avoid generalisations like “I know you’re not very good at X subject” or “Don’t worry, I was hopeless at Maths as well”. Cold comfort can be lasting.
A few tips that might be useful when reading the end of year report:
1. Asking your child what they think of their grade for a particular subject. This helps start a discussion about whether the report is close to what your child thinks they’ve achieved. If they think they’re not doing well, focus on achievements in another subject and perhaps those out of school. Focus on progress. Honour what they CAN do.
2. If you’re not familiar with what your child has been learning, ask about what tasks they have been doing in class for each subject, whether they have been finishing the tasks, and what they found easy or hard. When the time is right, ask them about what they’ve enjoyed.
3. Ask about the assessments they’ve done in class. If a grade is based on a single test, it may not reflect your child’s strengths or weaknesses. There are real clues in how assessments are weighted and some types of assessment suit some people more than others.
4. Focus on effort more than the grade. Talk about the grades they’ve received for effort. For example: I’ve noticed you’ve been putting a lot of effort into this subject, which is good. Or: What’s happening that’s affecting your effort in this subject? Find out if they weren’t interested or if the work was too hard for them.
5. Build resilience by expressing confidence in their ability to grow and celebrating their effort in trying.
As the poet T.S. Eliot once put it in his poems “The Preludes”:
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
I always think of children and young people this way. We must never distress so marvellous a creation.