I don't understand my children's school reports

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I did quite well in high school English, in fact I got an A -- back when teachers were brave enough to give out letters that indicate skill level instead of bland platitudes. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand what my kid’s teachers are saying about him.

And I am not alone, when I talk to parents the most common complaint about school reports is that they have become meaningless; afraid to say anything, schools end up saying nothing. Reports become a random selection of safe words and a scale that appears to start at Good and end at Really Good.

Like many parents, when I saw stories last week that some schools were jumping ahead of government changes forcing schools to return to plain English I was encouraged. But then the half-term report turned up in my son’s school bag -- it was the same impenetrable management speak.

Some examples:

“His concrete understanding of number and place value allows him to effectively implement a range of strategies to solve addition and subtraction problems”

When I take away the bullshit from this, I guess he can add and subtract.


Apparently he has an “ability to model inclusion to his peers”

So he’s inclusive? Or a psychopath who is able to “model” inclusion but really not give a rat’s?

“He is learning to stay focused and engaged on his tasks so he can fulfill his potential and complete them within the set time frame.”

Leaving aside the bad grammar, we actually found out he was being kept behind at recess because his hand-writing was so slow. From him.

 

“He listens intently and is often able to recap previous issues discussed.”

Often? Because when you whittle away the hyperbole that is just the basics of rote learning.

 

I could go on, but I would lose you if I haven’t already. I know I've tuned out, just like I did when an old-school teacher droned on straight from a textbook instead of teaching from the heart.

This ridiculous language has had the desired effect, I no longer really care to read it, so I rarely judge the people involved. I don’t look forward to finding out how my child is going at school because I know it is going to be a fruitless exercise in decoding like when you put any language into Google translate.

My son’s teachers could write that my kid is “showing a slightly heightened propensity to take an active role in removing the outer layer of stray felines” and I would miss it, such is the onslaught on nonsense language I am being fed.

I am a journalist, English is my business, and if I wrote like school reports I would be sacked.

I worry too that these people are teaching him to write; to express himself, yet they are afraid, or not allowed, to do the same themselves.

It doesn’t get a lot better face-to-face either. A recent parent-teacher chat gave the distinct feeling of those times as a writer I have had to interview a reluctant celebrity or more like business person or pollie that has a script to stick to. No deviation, no elaboration. Stick. To. The. Script.

I understand that teachers do not want to expose themselves to libel or the anger of parents who don’t like to hear that little Meekaylar is about two years behind in her spelling and comprehension but what about the rest of us? What about parents who want to get a clear understanding of where they need to support their children. I am not afraid of hearing my child is doing poorly, I’m afraid of NOT hearing it, of it being lost in the impenetrable gibberish of half-term assessment that at times make James Joyce seem a study in clarity.

I don’t suggest we hark back to the days of canings and labeling of students as clearly delinquent, but I do welcome the “plain English” changes that are supposed to be headed by way. I don’t even mind a “compliment sandwich” but not when the filling is equally saccharine like the written equivalent of peanut butter and honey (real peanut butter and honey sandwiches are great, don’t get me wrong!)

I wonder how long it will take to implement these changes? This fear of expression seems entrenched. But I hope it is a swift and meaningful change because we are in danger of losing sight of our kids' performance as it is swamped by fearful faux legalese. All the schools that have started ahead of next year’s deadline, well done. The rest of you, that continue to hide behind nonsensical language in school reports, you’re at the bottom of the class.

 

74 comments

  • The reason we use the 'compliment sandwich' and political speak these days is because the bulk of parents seem to be convinced their children are geniuses and that teachers are all halfwits holding their precious bundle back - you know, because you've all been in the classroom ergo you all know how EASY it is to teach. The straight-talk of the past is something for which most teachers long to revisit but, unfortunately, the most of the parents of today couldn't handle it.

    Commenter
    CPV
    Date and time
    July 03, 2014, 6:04AM
    • The trouble with this is that the parents that actually want an honest assessment are ignored.
      I got my son's glowing report this week and am totally lost as to how the fantastic comments on how well he's doing don't match his low marks.
      Either he understands the concepts or he doesn't. I want to know what needs to be done to help him improve not that he's "attentive" and "a pleasure to teach".
      Tell the parent the hard and honest truth, it might knock some sense into them.

      Commenter
      didi
      Date and time
      July 03, 2014, 9:40AM
    • Yes, but the discussion isn't about teaching.
      It is about poor communication.

      Commenter
      Dunce hat
      Location
      Corner
      Date and time
      July 03, 2014, 12:00PM
    • What sort of lazy parent needs a school report to know how their child is going in maths,reading and writing. Shows a compltete lack of participation which would be expected from a parent in their childs education.

      Commenter
      gd
      Date and time
      July 03, 2014, 2:14PM
    • spot on!

      Parents. Ya blew it, capiche?!

      Commenter
      CB
      Location
      Glenorie
      Date and time
      July 03, 2014, 3:38PM
    • No doubt gd, but I believe the discussion is about when the two do not correlate because the report is gobbledegook.

      Commenter
      Dunce hat
      Location
      Corner
      Date and time
      July 03, 2014, 3:43PM
  • Too true, and most teachers would agree with you. At my partner's school, teachers are not allowed to comment honestly on children's accomplishments- the squeaky wheel parents complain so loudly if anyone 'criticises' (read: assesses) their little darlings that it is 'easier' for the principal to insist that teachers fudge the reports. My partner's true reports have frequently been altered in the proof reading stage to read more 'kindly'.
    FYI, here are some frequently used codes:
    'He is learning to xxx'= he cannot yet xxx
    'He is moving towards...'= he is substantially below the rest of the class in
    Any mention of 'focus' or 'attention'= child is a disruptive little s!!t
    'Models well'/any use of modelling=is above average at
    'Leadership qualities that need to focus'= is the ringleader
    'Needs prompting to return to task'= has to sit beside the teacher as without a boot on his neck would do no tasks at all
    'Pedagogy'- teacher is sucking up to the principal/principal is wanker

    Feel free to contact any teacher for further translating!

    Commenter
    Missmolly
    Location
    Templestowe
    Date and time
    July 03, 2014, 7:22AM
    • "Any mention of 'focus' or 'attention'= child is a disruptive little s!!t"
      Love it !!!
      I was going to write something similar.

      I have tried to write honest reports, but the supervisor or principal won't let you. You are told to soften the statements.

      Some of my favourites:
      1. 'developing social skills' - your child is a little brat who hits other children.
      2. I wanted to write that a child needs to use her 'leadership' skills for good and not evil. *sigh* - not allowed.
      3. 'work towards becoming self-motivated' - he is a lazy little sh!t.
      4. any mention of 'resilience' - your child needs to toughen up because they cry all the time over minor things.
      5. 'work towards displaying sensible behaviour' - your child is very perculiar.

      Commenter
      George
      Date and time
      July 03, 2014, 9:02AM
    • An A+ to you Missmolly. I can smell the BS from my kids reports from their schoolbags and boy does it reek! Just say it like it is.

      If said child is struggling - tell us! We can do something about it. Reports are bad, however the face to face Parent/Teacher Meetings can be far worse. You can't even tell us the truth and we are sitting in front of you. The Teachers have their script, stick to it and wax lyrical about the improvements in the classroom/school/playground that will benefit my child.

      What about the basics?? If we can spot a phoney, what about the kids who have to endure these lessons.

      I have shrugged my shoulders after so many Parent/Teacher meetings, I have nothing to feed back to my child when they ask me how the meeting went - I dunno, she talked about the new wet area in the art room, no she didn't answer my question about your excessive Maths homework which you hadn't even been taught yet - GRRRR!

      Commenter
      Euuuuw Gross
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 03, 2014, 9:38AM
    • That is so true about interpreting the 'learning to ..' and 'moving towards ...' Once you've got that bit nailed, you're home and hosed.

      In that context, 'concrete understanding ...' mean's he's got it nailed, and is no longer 'moving towards ...'. 'Effectively use a range of strategies ..' doesn't just mean he can add up, it means that if the problem's presented differently, he's able to still add up rather than be flummoxed by the unfamiliarity of the exercise.
      ________________________
      " “He is learning to stay focused and engaged on his tasks so he can fulfill his potential and complete them within the set time frame.”

      Leaving aside the bad grammar, we actually found out he was being kept behind at recess because his hand-writing was so slow. From him."

      AHA! You see you missed the 'learning to ...' didn't you? What that means is that despite having made progress, he's still not actually succeeding in staying focused etc. That would be negative, though, eh, and we can't have that.

      Commenter
      bornagirl
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      July 03, 2014, 10:30AM

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