Time to rethink the traditional semester report

Tuesday, 19 Nov 2019

19 November 2019: A new report from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) questions the role of the traditional end of semester school report after finding most provide little indication of students’ learning growth and are increasingly becoming superseded by newer communication technologies that allow for continuous reporting.

The report by ACER researchers Hilary Hollingsworth, Jonathan Heard and Paul Weldon summarises a three-year initiative to investigate the effectiveness of activities related to communicating student learning progress, including whether they provide quality information and how much they are valued by students and parents.

ACER’s research identified scope to improve the way schools address federal government regulations to produce ‘readily understandable’ reports for parents and carers ‘at least twice a year’ that ‘give an accurate and objective assessment of the students’ progress and achievement’.

“The most recent Gonski report emphasises the importance of communicating both individual achievement and learning growth but our analysis revealed that, with few exceptions, Australian schools tend only to report student achievement,” Dr Hollingsworth said.

“This singular focus on grades and scores can leave parents with little insight into their child’s learning growth and can be demotivating for students.”

The report recommends that school reporting should track student growth over time in relation to the typical pathway of learning in each area, make clear how students are both performing and progressing against expectations, and include specific information about how to improve.

“Parents and students told us they want school reports to explain what the student has, and has not yet, been able to demonstrate, and indicate more specifically what they need to do next to progress in a learning area,” Dr Hollingsworth said.

The research found schools felt pressured by the end of semester reporting process, which is often initiated several weeks or months before the reports are eventually released.

“Traditional semester reports require significant time and resourcing to produce and, by the time parents receive them, the information is often outdated and un-actionable,” Dr Hollingsworth said.

The report recommends schools investigate continuous forms of reporting as one means of streamlining communications to parents and carers.

“Online management systems typically enable teachers to continuously report on student achievement throughout the school year, providing parents with information closer to the point of assessment. This is prompting some schools to reconsider the purpose and format of end of semester reports,” Dr Hollingsworth said.

“Many schools already use continuous reporting alongside written reports, parent-teacher interviews and portfolios as part of their broader approach to communicating student learning progress, but few have aligned the distinct but complementary role of these different forms of communication.”

Read more in [rd] Research Developments or download the full report, Communicating Student Learning Progress: A Review of Student Reporting in Australia, or the Findings in brief.

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Media enquiries: 03 9277 5582 or 0419 340 058 communications@acer.org