The following article was written by Henrietta Cook for the Age, published on March 6 2016
They have graced report cards for decades, but some schools are ditching A to E grades in favour of more detailed feedback.
Schools are scrapping A to E grades on student report cards following an overhaul of the long-established reporting system.
Lengthy, end-of-semester reports have also been abolished at some schools, which are instead giving families regular academic updates online.
It follows changes introduced under the former state government in 2014, which have given schools a lot more freedom to experiment with their reports.
Nossal High School at Berwick has ditched grades on its reports because it found parents and students were paying too much attention to them, and ignoring other important feedback about a student’s progress.
Students and teachers contribute to the new report cards, and rate the student’s knowledge, skills, participation, reflection and study habits.
Assistant principal Sue Harrap said the school had felt “boxed in” by the previous, mandatory reporting style.
“We are trying to develop a growth mindset. The fundamental change is that we are not reporting on achievement, we are reporting on progress and learning.”
The change has been welcomed by Rose Vujic, whose son Thomas is in year 11 at the select-entry school.
“It doesn’t pigeonhole the kids,” she said. “When he used to get his reports you would look at the As or Bs and wouldn’t read anything else.”
She said the new online reports, which are accessed by families four times a year, provided her with much more information about her son.
“It is not just a snapshot of what he’s done. It looks at the future and sees what he can achieve.”
Australian Council of Educational Research chief executive Geoff Masters said grades were not very useful in monitoring a student’s progress. He said a student who received the same grade year after year could be making no progress.
“People will assume that if someone gets an A they have learnt a lot and if someone gets a D they haven’t learnt very much,” he said. “But in fact, that is not generally true.”
He said this was because there were huge gaps – sometimes as great as six years – between the brightest and least advanced classmates.
“At the start of the year, students are spread out in their levels of achievement but then they are all assessed according to the same finish line.”
Bendigo South East College no longer sends out lengthy end-of-semester reports, and has created a dashboard for students where they can constantly check their progress. Different colours indicate how well the students are performing and no one wants red on their dashboard.
“It has improved their output of work,” the school’s curriculum facilitator, Jenny Brown, said.
“Students are able to see on their dashboard how they are progressing every week. They are not waiting to the end of semester to get a report. There are no surprises.”
The school will make further changes to its reporting regime in line with the new Victorian curriculum, and will investigate whether A to E grades are still useful.
An Education Department spokeswoman said Victorian schools were now able to determine the timing, frequency and format of reports in consultation with their school community.
But they are expected to report student achievement twice a year using a five-point scale of equivalent.
“A single common report format is not mandated,” she said.
“Schools should ensure reports on student learning are clear, individualised and provide accurate information about student learning progress related to the AusVELS or Victorian Curriculum standards.”
Schools can still use traditional A to E grades on their reports.