Class reports confound

By Kathryn Powley

Lack of clarity and simplicity in teacher assessments tend to make school communication like a foreign language.

Wendy Kofoed, principal of Newmarket Primary School and champion of plain English reporting. Photo / Doug Sherring
Wendy Kofoed, principal of Newmarket Primary School and champion of plain English reporting. Photo / Doug Sherring

An estimated 10,300 new entrants are just starting school - and beginning to learn the "three Rs".

And their parents will soon have to learn to grapple with the fourth R: Reports.

The Herald on Sunday analysed some of last year's primary school reports and found a wide - and sometimes weird - variety of ways schools communicate with parents.

One school in a well-to-do Auckland suburb gave parents a colour-coded end-of-year report including a "key competencies self-assessment" filled in by the 6-year-old pupil.

Another school supplied an entire folder detailing achievements and areas in need of improvement.

Newmarket School principal Wendy Kofoed did a doctoral thesis on the language of reports.

She said she constantly reviewed her reports to make sure they were easy to understand.

"Clarity is still the big issue in the language we use."

Kofoed said reports with many levels, ages, and stages could be confusing.

"We're providing so much information that it is making reporting in some cases less accessible for parents who want to know their children are doing well and are making progress.

"We can convey that reasonably simply."

Lynda Harris, founder of the Writemark Plain English Awards, is also a former teacher.

She said a layer of technical language was now part of education.

"It isn't just in the language of reports.Those technical terms are used in the classroom daily."

Children routinely spoke a "foreign language" to their parents about their own learning, Harris said.

Student achievement was measured against National Standards but the Education Ministry said it had no plans to standardise reports.

Deputy secretary of student achievement, Rowena Phair, said schools could report on progress to parents in whatever way they considered appropriate, using "clear and easily understood language".

"The ministry provides guidance for schools on how they might report to parents, which includes examples of good practice," she said. "There are no plans to require schools to standardise how they report to parents about their child's progress."

The ministry estimates 62,000 new entrants will start school during the 2014 year.

- Herald on Sunday

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