Student Reports: More Worthless Than a White Crayon

A teacher’s take on student reports… and why they are a waste of my time!

So, I’m here at my laptop (sitting on my bed with coffee and Oreos on my bedside table), hammering away at my keyboard at a million keystrokes-per-minute, trying to make a dent in my students’ end-of-year reports. I suspect all Australian teachers are busy doing much the same this weekend, and last weekend, and next weekend, and after school most nights for the next couple of weeks! I’m taking a quick break to punch out this post, wondering why the heck am I wasting soooooo much time on these worthless things?

Let me give just 3 reasons why they a waste of my time, and need I say more.

1) Student reports do not improve student learning

This one is obvious, is it not? Are there any parents out there who would actually say, “I get a report from my child’s teacher twice a year, and that piece of paper helps my child learn and achieve more!” Of course not, but let me cite some research just to come off more professional. If you haven’t heard of New Zealander (now living in Melbourne) John Hattie or heard of his work on “effect sizes” I urge you to look him up. Long story short, I don’t see reports anywhere on his list of factors which improve student learning outcomes. A few factors are sort of related, such as “Student Self-Reported Grades” which states that a student’s expectations of their own learning and the push for them to exceed those expectations improves their learning, “Formative Evaluation” which basically refers to the assessment used to inform teaching and learning, and “Feedback” information for teacher and more importantly the student, on where they’re going, how they’re going and where to next*. Note that this last factor does not mean feedback given to a parent about what their kid has done at school for the last six months!

2) Student reports take a teacher’s time away from the things that matter

Consider the point above, now consider how much time teachers spend writing reports. Let’s conservatively say the average Primary School teacher spends an hour per child on their report, twice a year, with an average class size of 25. Now consider how those 50 hours could have been better spent planning teaching and developing brilliant learning experiences for their students, collecting resources, researching curriculum and pedagogy and so on. Just think of what a teacher could do to improve their pupils’ learning outcomes, if those 50 hours were returned to them!

 3) Student reports need to be so politically correct and full of jargon that parents can barely decipher what their child can actually do

 Aside from the fact that any good parent already knows their child – duh – and is very likely to know their child better than their teacher anyway – duh – I don’t believe that reports accurately convey information about a child’s learning. At my school, for example, we are not allowed to say that a child “can” do something or “is able to” to do something – what the? We can’t say that a child “needs to” improve in a certain area, rather we have to say that their “future learning may be to…”. We can’t make subjective comments or say anything about their personality or personal attributes. Comments now need to be objective, specific, measurable and data-backed. Boring. PC. Useless.

Teachling <WordPress> <Tumblr>

 *Some of Hattie’s work:
Hattie, J. 2009. Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement.
Hattie, J. 2003. Who says formative assessment matters: Formative and summative interpretations of assessment information.
Hattie, J. 2003. Distinguishing expert teachers from novice and experienced teachers: Teachers make a difference.


6 thoughts on “Student Reports: More Worthless Than a White Crayon

  1. Hmm. I’m not so sure. As a kid I used to like receiving reports – they were a private sign of what the teacher really thought of you (?) I agree about the problems of PC though. At my school (U.K.), we just issue a set of numbers every half-term, which is time-saving but I would have thought much less help than a written comment. They used to be a pain to write, but I always valued the personal tough much more than a computer printout.

    • Hi there! Do you do written comments at all or are the ‘grades’ all they receive? Yes, I suppose written comments could be more useful than the set of numbers, but it would depend on what’s written on them. Like you said, I remember my school reports saying things like that I was a “quiet achiever”, “helpful” and “thoughtful” whereas my brother had comments like “he needs to apply himself more” and that he “doesn’t pay attention”. No way could I say anything like those comments in my students’ reports now! I guess reports (at least here in Aus) used to be more “INSIGHTFUL” like the ones you mentioned in which you and your family heard the TRUTH from the teacher. You’d shudder if you read what I’m writing at the moment. I wonder if it’s because the schools are scared of parents hearing the truth?

      • Yes, I’m sure you’re right – comments have become so emasculated that they probably don’t help. We literally enter two grades per student – ‘working at level’ and ‘attitude to learning’ numbers. No comments at all. The saddest thing was, they justified it by saying ‘pupils and parents have been statistically shown to find this more valuable than teacher comments’. Balderdash! I used to enjoy crafting paragraphs that were personal to each student – the one individual touch you could rely on being able to do for each and every one – but no more. I think the majority of parents still want the truth, so long as it’s tactfully put! (I still love the apocryphal “Trying – very.”!)


  3. Pingback: Teachling | The highs and lows of teaching: From making a difference, building great relationships and shaping the future, to homework, reports and helicopter parents.

  4. Pingback: Teachling | Student Reports: More Worthless Than a White Crayon

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