Wednesday, December 14, 2011

School reports: shedding pseudo light on non-problems?

Yesterday was a school report day in my family. As an ex-teacher with many years of report-writing experience, I can't help but feel a twinge of sympathy for teachers at this time, although that twinge is tempered by the fact that in New Zealand, it seems teachers only report formally once a year. A far cry from the detailed quarterly reports we had to churn out!

The report we received was interesting, in a confusing sort of way. Unlike some NZ schools, J_'s school has implemented national standards, a system that requires schools to score each child as 'above', 'at' or 'below' the national standards for reading, writing and mathematics at their age. Exactly what each individual standard entails is a little harder to find, but I remain hopeful that another few hours on Google will be fruitful. I am all for standards. I don't think it's demeaning or harmful to find out that my child is 'below' the national standard (whatever that might actually be) for mathematics. On the contrary, it's a useful alarm bell, providing me with an opportunity to arrange extra lessons, or whatever else might be required to improve his performance. (And when one considers that in New Zealand, apparently just 'one third of students going into secondary school are numerate', that alarm bell is ringing pretty loudly.)

What confused me about the diagnosis of 'below standard' is the feedback that accompanies it. Apparently elder-son has made 'significant progress with numeracy..., is clever at solving problems which involve thinking out the box... has worked hard... is capable...can do well'. Now, apart from the slight equivocation of 'can do well' the rest seems pretty positive. So why am I confused? Well, earlier this year, we had parent-student-teacher interviews instead of a formal written report. I like these occasions when the parent, student and the teacher talk together about achievements, progress and improvements. At this interview, I was told that my son was performing 'at the national standard' for mathematics. Six months later, he is below standard. That really does not sound like significant progress to me, unless progress and success are inversely proportional! So I queried this with his teacher. Take a look at the reply I received, and if you can interpret it, please let me know!

The Interim Reports and interviews were based on J__'s results from the first half of the year. The end of year results were based on the whole year which included OTJ's (teacher judgements) Numeracy, Statistics, Probability, Measurement and Geometry, which is why there is a difference in the levels. J__ has made significant individual progress within these areas. The National Standards are aspirational [???] and there are wide variations within each level.

What is really interesting about the whole thing is that despite some fairly lengthy searching online, I still don't know what exactly the standards are for each level, and what being below standard actually means. I'm sure it would be much more useful for parents to be told that their precious offspring is a lazy git who would do better if he talked less and worked more than to be told that as a result of 'significant progress' said child is now below standard.

The other child's school issues their reports tomorrow. Interestingly, this school is one of the renegade schools that have refused to implement national standards, and they've done a lot of touting of the fact that their reports will be 'written in plain English'. I look forward to the evidence of this.

On a slightly related note, the same school report tells me that my son and heir was 'able to make connections from his 1970's research and transfer this to his character on stage' [in the annual school theatre production]. I trust you are impressed. You would be less so if you knew that said son was one of ten masked characters who marched onto a stage amongst about sixty classmates, stood utterly motionless at the very back of the stage throughout the piece, and then marched off again.


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  2. Although a year old, this article certainly highlights the problems with the national standards policy.

    December 20, 2011 5:42