My youngest son, now 17 years old, is reaching the end of his Secondary schooling. Just like most parents do, I have had many conversations with him about how he is going at school. The usual response I get is, “I’m going OK, dad”. 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’ actually 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 am at times pleasantly surprised and feel confident that my boy is doing well. At other times, I have been concerned about what the tick in that cell is telling me about my son and his learning. Surely, that is a shared feeling amongst parents.

As an educator, I understand 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 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.

If you are interested in finding out more about this standards and descriptors, please visit the NESA website on the link below:

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 the 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 move our learners toward 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 that 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 researchers and educators. 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, on the link below:

As we prepare to receive the next set of reports to confirm the ‘I’m going OK’ response, let’s keep in mind the importance of reading Semester Reports as part of the cycle of feedback.

Jaime Rodriguez
Deputy Head of School/Head of Secondary