School Academic Reports: Compliance and Feedback

Just like most parents do, I used to have many conversations with my own children about how they are going at school. The usual response I received from my boys was, “I’m going OK dad”. I’m sure that sounds familiar to you.

Over the years, as the end of Semester 1 or Semester 2 approaches, I have waited for that dreaded Semester Report to get a better understanding of what “going OK” looks like. Our school system has created an expectation that parents will receive a report for their child twice a year. As a parent, I was at times pleasantly surprised and felt confident that my boys were doing well. At other times, however, I was concerned about what the tick in that cell was telling me about my sons and their learning. Surely, that is also a shared feeling amongst parents.

As educators, we see Semester Reports as one of many processes through which teachers offer feedback to students and to parents about how each child is progressing in their learning. Semester Reports are designed as a cumulative impression about how well students have learned the expected content and skills covered during the period of instruction.

Our system of education is designed as a Standards Referenced system, which “refers to the process of collecting and interpreting information about students’ learning. It uses syllabus outcomes as key reference points for decisions about students’ progress and achievement.” (NESA website, accessed August 2020). These ‘Standards’ are given to us educators as a description of “what students are expected to know, understand and do at each stage, described in NSW syllabuses through outcomes, content and stage statements and a description of how well students have achieved the learning.” ([My emphasis], from NESA website, accessed August 2020). In other words, at the core of a teacher’s job is the engineering of tasks, activities, discussion, quizzes, etc., which are used to evaluate how much progress a student has made towards the NESA described expected standard.

These standards are usually consolidated for the purpose of evaluation in an A-E scale, referred to as Course Descriptors. They are found in every subject syllabus. As such, most schools’ reports would have a five-point scale (equivalent to A-E grades) to capture students’ level of achievement. Click here if you are interested in finding out more about these standards and descriptors.

As a matter of compliance, schools are expected to report on each student’s progress and achievement against this predetermined given set of standards. At all Saints Grammar, we provide parents with a report that offers a holistic learner profile.

Throughout each Semester we observe, and gather evidence of students’ engagement, progress, and achievement in learning. We provide a set of descriptors based on the standards set for us by the governing body, NESA. But reports are only one component of feedback cycle. Feedback on classwork, evaluation processes, parent-teacher conferences, are all components of the feedback cycle, as well as being processes through which we mover our learners forward, closer, and hopefully beyond the expected standards.

Teachers use the information gathered, interpret it, and then offer feedback to students about how they are going and what to do next in their learning journey. Academic Semester Reports represent the cumulative product of teaching, learning and evaluation, teachers and students have undergone throughout the Semester.

So, what is the purpose of Semester reports? Reports are intended to provide feedback. What has the greatest impact on students’ learning, is the extent to which they engage with the feedback offered and take action to improve. The feedback loop is closed by the actions taken by the students.
Hattie is one of the world’s best known and most respected researcher and educator John Hattie and Helen Timperley are expert researchers who have written a lot about the impact of feedback. If you are interested, have a look at their 2003 article, The Power of Feedback.

When reviewing reports, I invite you to keep in mind the importance of reading Semester repots as part of the cycle of feedback and help your child move to the next level of achievement.

Head of Secondary/Deputy Head of School
Mr Jaime Rodriguez