New Reporting System 10/4/2006

THE AGE Newspaper Article of Monday April 10th 2006

Question:  I heard a new reporting system is being introduced with the old PABCD grades. Will it be clearer or will we end up comparing our child's learning?

It is true that a new reporting system is being introduced to schools and that letters are being included.

Despite statistics, data and outcomes attempting to provide a guide to what standards or expectations we should reach in our lives, personality, culture, individual rates of development and learning styles mean that no one child will be ready to do the same thing at the same time in exactly the same way. They will not be at a particular level at a particular time simply because it is written in a particular document.

Expectations vary between states and countries. There is no magic standard across the world and standards do not equate to happiness and success in life or learning. They are indicators set by a particular government in particular parts of the world. For example, in some countries, children are not expected to learn formal reading until age seven, whereas in Victoria, it is expected that children will be reading at certain levels earlier.

Reports, therefore, can be misleading and often cause anxiety for parents and children. Reporting often locks everyone into attempting to categorise children into preset standards and expectations rather than providing regular information. This shared information should not just include subject areas but critical life skills such as problem solving, socialisation, expression of emotions, articulation of needs and views.

The designers of the new report have attempted to provide useful information to parents, but a report given twice a year cannot do justice to the processes of learning, the changes within children and the individual nature of learning. Reports tend to have a letter, standard or number that does not necessarily provide meaningful information about the individual gains of a child. For example, one child may receive a D for a subject, which in relation to state averages may look concerning. However, the child may have been unwell, missed school, had a trauma at home, experienced a particular learning difficulty in that area and in fact made greater gains in that subject than someone who received an A. That is significant learning and an achievement for that child, who may not yet have reached a "standard", but their actual learning has been purposeful and is heading in a positive direction.

Any report that indicates where one child is in relation to the supposed average needs to be regarded carefully by parents and not taken as the main indicator of their child's learning. The best type of reporting is the ongoing sharing of information between parents, children and teachers that doesn't just occur halfway and at the end of the year.

From years past, the ABCD system caused great angst and did not ever provide in-depth information or support. You felt great because you received an A or terrible because you didn't. Learning is not about being great or not great. It is a personal journey, which sometimes has its great achievements and its times of struggle.
The very best reporting between children, teachers and parents attempts to capture on a regular basis the essence of a child's likes, dislikes, strengths, challenges, and most importantly provides an ongoing picture of who the child is as a learner, not just what standard they reached. Reporting involves reflection for children, parents and teachers that is based on conversation and examples of learning throughout the year. Successful learning is not about reaching standards, it is about reaching for goals, attaining skills and having each child's strengths and challenges extended and supported.

The best questions a parent can ask in relation to a meaningful report are: "What do you know of my child, what are her interests, her strengths and the things that challenge her? What can we all do to help her to move along her own learning pathway and to maximise her sense of self worth and eagerness to learn?"
With the new reporting system, parents must avoid falling into the trap of seeing a letter or grade and then locking the child into either being good a, not quite good enough. Life and learning is much more complex than an assigned letter given to a child twice a year.

Copyright © Kathy Walker 2006

Kathy Walker is an education consultant specialising in early childhood and primary years and a former lecturer at RMIT University.