Decoding school reports

decoding school reports

How user-friendly is your child’s school report?  How does the National Standards impact on your child’s assessment? Here’s a guide to decoding some of the school-speak.

One of the reasons behind introducing National Standards was to ensure school reports were easy to understand. While that’s certainly the case when it comes to teachers’ comments and recommendations, some aspects of the school report still remain a mystery to many parents.

the school report’s structure The report should include:

  • your child’s progress in relation to the standards
  • your child’s progress in relation to their own goals
  • recommended steps to support your child’s learning

If you have a child in years 1 through to 8, the report will cover aspects:

  1. Measured against the targets set out in the National Standards, namely:
  • reading (fluency, understanding)
  • writing (creativity, spelling, punctuation)
  • maths
  1. Not measured against the National Standards, such as:
  • science and technology
  • health and physical wellbeing
  • key competencies (works well with others, actively contributes to the class, asks questions)

The report will indicate whether your child is achieving Below, At, or Above Expectations. Some schools also have the categories Well Below and Well Above to provide more detailed feedback.

the national standards part

For the first three years, your child’s progress is measured according to how long they have been at school (ie, after one year, after two years, after three years at school).

From then on, the way progress is assessed changes to looking at what the child should be achieving by the end of the school year (ie, by the end of year 4, year 5, etc)

Because the school is obliged to supply at least two written assessments per year, the mid-year report for your Year 4 child may be a bit of a shock: the previous report measured your child’s progress after three years of school, and now it is measuring against expectations that are still a few months in the future.

But what do those expectations mean, anyway? If your child is performing at or above the National Standard in reading, writing or maths during years 1-8, the ministry’s opinion is that “they’re on track to finish secondary school with a worthwhile leaving qualitication (at least NCEA level 2 or similar).”

So, if your child is performing at expectations, does that mean they’re average? Not so. National averages have nothing to do with National Standards. A national average consists of students’ actual results – it shows what New Zealand students of a given age can do. National Standards, on the other hand, set out what every student of a given age should be able to do – they are milestones of minimum achievement as outlined by the Ministry of Education. While the fact that we’re comparing to a minimum level of achievement may be unsettling for some parents, the goal is to lift performance in literacy (reading, writing), and numeracy (mathematics) by setting higher goalposts than previously, and providing clarity about what students should achieve and by when.

the ‘other’ part

Just because Technology, Health and Key Competencies are not measured against the newly prescribed National Standards, it doesn’t make them less important. When an employer looks to recruit, they will want somebody who can use the computer, be organised and possess a good work ethic.

So, attached to the National Standards comes another document: the old Curriculum. This sits behind the new Achievement Objectives and is still used to determine whether your child is on target in science and independent thinking.

measuring progress

In reporting your child’s progress, teachers use a range of assessment practices (norm-referenced and criterion-referenced diagnostic tools), observations in the classroom, and homework assignments. National Standards should have removed any subjectivity or comparisons to high-achieving pupils.

There is no prescribed test or assessment tool, however, most schools will use one or more of the following:

  • School Entry Assessment for
    new entrants
  • 6-year Net (Observation Survey) when the child is in Year 2 and turns 6 – identifying letters, knowing you read left to right, writing, etc
  • Burt for reading (Year 2 on)
  • STAR (Supplementary Test for Achievement in Reading) (Year 3 on)
  • PAT for reading and maths (Year 3 on)
  • PROBE for reading (Year 3 on)
  • asTTle (Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning) for reading, writing and maths (Year 5 on).

Writing, in particular, is a tricky area to assess. If your child is writing imaginative stories, using compound and complex sentences years ahead of their age, yet their spelling is behind, how should their progress be marked against the National Standards? The solution is to assess writing against multiple indicators, so that you can be dyslexic and still achieve expectations. E-asTTle allows you to type writing samples into a computer, which then analyses it and gives feedback about the student’s strengths and weaknesses.

You are entitled to see all your child’s test results, books and academic folder. However, some tests are tricky to interpret, and it’s best to request an appointment with the teacher to discuss your child’s results. The PAT results in particular are notoriously easy to misunderstand, and sometimes your child’s Stanine (a method of scaling test scores on a nine-point standard scale) fluctuates from year to year.

the bottom line

As a parent, you have a valuable role to play in your child’s education. Take an active interest in how your child’s doing at school, what their learning needs are, how much progress they’ve made recently and whether there’s anything you can do to support them at home.

the rest of the world

  • According to the report released by the United Nations Development Programme in 2011, New Zealand’s education system is world-class. We’re ranked 5th out of 187 countries, ahead of Norway, Australia, Ireland and the United States.
  • Another study, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment ranks New Zealand’s education as the 7th best in the world (beating Australia and the UK). However, the gap between our successful and unsuccessful students is huge, and our priority should be lifting underachievement.

special needs

Students with special learning needs still follow their Individual Education Plans, but most of them are also measured against the National Standards.

comparing schools

The Government has announced it will publicise individual schools’ National Standards results online (the percentages of students performing below, at, and above expectations). The aim is to better inform parents about every school’s performance. This is customary practice overseas, yet it may be a poor measure here, given the diversity of our school populations: socio-economic background, English-second-other-language (ESOL), special needs. A more constructive gauge is how much difference the school has made to each student from year to year, what the school culture is, and what extracurricular activities they offer.

Yvonne is an education specialist, a senior consultant to Creative Learning Systems in Auckland, and a mother of two primary school children.

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