Effective Practices : Report Writing and Documentation
Report Writing in the High School
Report Writing and Documentation Section 2
1. What are the key elements of the written progress reports for students in the high school?
2. Does your school have written guidelines for report writing in the high school? Attach a copy if available and comment on the most important aspects of these guidelines.
3. Describe the format of your school’s reports. What are the key elements that should always be included? Excluded?
4. Does your school issue grades to students in the high school? What are the reasons for your decision in this area?
5. If no grades are issued, what difficulties does this decision present and in what ways have you been able to meet these challenges?
6. In what ways do you ensure that what parents and students read and what teachers intend to communicate are the same?
7. Do reports include information about the non-academic aspects of the student’s performance at school (e.g. classroom behavior, social ease and interaction, etc?) How and when are these subjects included?
8. In the high school progress reports are often a compilation of separate reports from individual subject teachers. In what ways do you ensure that parents and students receive a complete picture of the student’s achievements and challenges?
9. With what frequency are reports produced?
10. Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy with regard to report writing in the high school.
11. What about your school’s report writing in the high school is particularly effective?
12. If there were something that you could change in relation to your school’s report writing in the high school what would you change and why?
What are the key elements of the written progress reports for students in the high school?
Progress reports typically begin with a standardized heading which includes the name of the course, the course date, the teacher’s name, the student’s name and the student’s grade level.
The next section of the report is a course description. This is a general overview of the course content and approach, and varies in style from teacher to teacher. Some teachers list the skills being developed in the course, and others talk about the projects and other main components of student work necessary for completion of the course. Some teachers may describe the type of homework and its frequency. Some write in a narrative vein, while others use only a list of course elements. Regardless of approach, the intention is that any reader of the report will understand the content and the process of the course. Some schools publish a course description booklet that is mailed to students and parents at the beginning of the school year.
An important part of the course description is to state clearly the requirements of the class so that comments about student performance and the resulting grade are clear and well established. Many schools require that course expectations be distributed for every class at the beginning of the course. The course expectations are in essence a contract with the student about what to expect from the course and the “terms” on which grades will be issued. (See: Course Expectations Sample)
The third section of the report is the student evaluation. It is an unsentimental narrative description of the student’s work. It is meant to be both a characterization of how the student engaged in the course and about the quality of the work. Although the commentary may include information on the student’s behavior, this is not an area that usually affects the grade a student receives in the course. An exception to this would be in areas where a student’s participation is a direct component of the class such as participation in oral recitations in a foreign language class. Within the student evaluation section many teachers include a section called assessments. This section is a description of the graded aspects of the class such as assignments, comprehension, and a section on the portfolio or main lesson book or essay, and shows how a student did in each of these areas. The assessment section is intended to make the basis of the course grade clear so that students and their parents can understand why a particular grade was received. (See: High School Report Sample)
The final part of the report is the course grade. Accompanying this information is data on days absent, days tardy, and any disciplinary action taken (send outs, suspensions, etc.)
Some teachers also include a report section called commendations and recommendations. This section allows the teacher to give a high grade and cite a student’s particular strengths, but still give recommendations on things that could have been taken up.
Does your school have written guidelines for report writing in the high school? Attach a copy if available and comment on the most important aspects of these guidelines.
None of the schools surveyed had written guidelines for report writing. However, most schools have general information of an operational nature about reports in their teacher handbooks. This information is typically restricted to information about when reports are due, and other procedural matters.
Describe the format of your school’s reports. What are the key elements that should always be included? Excluded?
Most schools establish a standard format for their reports. Some limit the report length to one 8 1/2” X 11” page for each course, and most require that a standard font and type size be used.
Elements that are always included are the calendar year, the student’s class (freshman/sophomore/junior/senior) and the student’s legal name. The report will include for each class the class name, a letter grade, and the teacher’s name. Absences and tardies are also listed.
Information that is excluded from high school reports are vague “nice person” descriptions that don’t actually describe the student’s work, and comments that make comparisons between the student and the rest of the class. Comments such as, “Johnny did better that anyone else in the class,” are not used; a preferred statement would be, “Johnny excelled in his understanding and use of the material - a truly exceptional performance!”
Does your school issue grades to students in the high school? What are the reasons for your decision in this area?
Almost all Waldorf high schools issue letter grades, in part because they do not want to compromise students in any way for their college entrance. When grades are not issued students are often evaluated for college acceptance based only on their SAT and ACT scores. This is an incomplete picture of the students’ work, and gives colleges and universities little to work with when making acceptance decisions. The students and their parents also feel that an objective measure such as grades is a way for them to get a fuller sense of a student’s progress.
One school that made the shift from not issuing grades to adding grades to the high school report noted that when the decision was made the faculty feared that students would focus only on the grade and not read the other narrative portions of the report. The opposite has been the case in actual experience - students seem to read the reports quite thoroughly and take teachers to task if the narrative portion of the report is vague or otherwise inadequate. At this same school the college counselor has seen a higher acceptance rate, especially in large colleges and universities and highly selective liberal arts schools, as a result of this change.
One school in our survey noted that while it gives grades for each main lesson block and each academic track class, no grades are given in artistic classes, physical education, and required extra curricular work.
The approach that schools take with regard to transcripts varies. In some schools the individual grades are shown on the transcript for every class, while others combine the block and track classes into a single grade by subject area. For example, some schools will give separate grades for biology, chemistry, physics, and earth sciences so the breadth of the curriculum is evident in a way that is not reflected if the transcript just reads “Science.”
If no grades are issued, what difficulties does this decision present and in what ways have you been able to meet these challenges?
One school surveyed does not issue grades in the high school, and has not issued them for almost 15 years. The individual student evaluations may include information on graded components of the course - tests, quizzes, or a main lesson book - but never a grade for the course as a whole. The decision to stop issuing grades was made based on a conviction that grading was an inappropriate approach, causing students to focus on the grade and allowing them to ignore the information contained in the report commentary. Students still feel the hard edge of discrimination about their work through the graded components of class work, but the school believes the lack of an overall grade directs the student more appropriately to the evaluative narrative comments in the report.
In the past when course grades were issued, the school transcript included both grades and an excerpt from the student evaluation commentary. Once the decision was made to stop issuing grades the colleges wrote to the school asking that the full course report be sent, rather than just the excerpted reports. Colleges were willing to read the longer repots, and placed more confidence in the full report than they did in the excerpt.
In cases where grades are an absolute requirement (e.g. University of California and Canadian colleges) the school will translate the written grade reports into graded transcripts. As this school does not operate in either California or Canada, the frequency of these requests is minimal. It is the responsibility of the school’s college guidance counselor to create these graded transcripts. It makes some people uncomfortable that this responsibility lies in the hands of one person, but it is too difficult to go back and ask teachers to create grades after the fact.
The guidance counselor at this school could not think of any situation where a student was declined acceptance due to the lack of a graded transcript. That is not to say that students do not receive rejections from colleges, but that the stated reason has never been the lack of a graded transcript. Typically the explanation is that the school is looking for higher SAT or ACT scores than the applicant achieved.
The school is experimenting this year with including a GPA but not individual class grades along with the report transcripts provided to colleges. It is too soon to tell if this approach will work, but it is clear that this places an increased work burden on the guidance counselor.
In what ways do you ensure that what parents and students read and what teachers intend to communicate are the same?
This is an important, and sometimes difficult, job that is addressed in a variety of ways in Waldorf high schools. Many schools start the process by having standard definitions for letter grades, and this information, coupled with the assessment information included in the report commentary usually make it fairly easy for the reader to understand the grade portion of the report. It is more difficult to ensure that the narrative commentary is clearly understood.
Many schools have a single individual, often the high school administrator or administrative assistant, who proofreads everything that teachers write. Teachers typically write their reports and email them to the administrative assistant for editing. She is responsible for questioning any inconsistencies between the written commentary and the grade. This reading of reports by another individual helps to ensure that the narrative is clear and properly communicates the student’s progress to parents and students alike. Often times the student’s advisor reads through the reports before they are sent home. This provides the advisor with a heads up for any problems, as well as providing a second look at the report for clarity and completeness.
Once the report is mailed there are three mechanisms that can help ensure that the reports are accurate and well understood:
- Grade challenges - Students give feedback regularly when they feel that there are not clear expectations for a course, and when they feel that a grade has been inappropriately given. A student has the right to come and question their grade, and schools have a formal process for these grade challenges.
- Schools encourage parents to speak with the teacher, the advisor or the high school administrator if there are any questions about the report.
- The parents, student and the advisor have a yearly conference which is also a place where questions come up.
Most schools also issue notices if a student is doing C work or less at the mid-point in the course. The final grade report should never be a surprise.
Do reports include information about the non-academic aspects of the student’s performance at school (e.g. classroom behavior, social ease and interaction, etc?) How and when are these subjects included?
While most schools report on non-academic aspects of a student’s performance at school, some do not. The schools that report little non-academic information state that while classroom behavior that is consistently difficult will be mentioned in the report, difficulties of this sort are handled through a separate process. In these cases Notices of Concern are completed by the teacher. These notices may address academic, social, emotional or family issues. The forms are reviewed first with a student, and then sent home with copies to the class advisor and to the student’s file. The advisors circle, which meets weekly, is the place where these forms are addressed and where plans of action to support students are developed. (See: Note of Concern)
Schools that do mention the non-academic aspects of a student’s performance include these comments in a way that shows how the non-academic issues had a bearing on the student’s final grade. These issues can directly affect the grade in classes where student participation is vital such as in foreign language classes and science lab work. Teachers may also include conduct in the basis for grading; this is spelled out up front in the course requirements.
In cases where there are serious concerns that are affecting the student’s overall success at the school, the class sponsor or student advisor will make contact with the student and his/her parents to address the situation.
In the high school progress reports are often a compilation of separate reports from individual subject teachers. In what ways do you ensure that parents and students receive a complete picture of the student’s achievements and challenges?
High school reports are by their very nature entirely compilations, and are not expected to give a complete picture of all aspects of a student’s life in the Waldorf high school. Other important communications include yearly conferences between the student, parents and the student’s advisor, and the regular class parent evenings that take place several times during the school year.
With what frequency are reports produced?
Reports are issued several times a year in the Waldorf high school. At a minimum reports are issued twice a year at the end of each semester (or three times at schools which use the trimester system). Many schools require that evaluations be written within ten days of the end of a block, and that interim reports be prepared mid-semester in ongoing skills classes. (See: Progress Report) Most schools also emphasize getting seniors’ reports written earlier than the usual ten business days at mid-year, as timely information can facilitate college admission.
Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy with regard to report writing in the high school.
The grade cannot be a replacement for the narrative portion of the report. Students want to read the narrative and take the teachers’ words very seriously.
Narrative comments must be honest, and also phrased in a way that calls on something higher in the student. The students want to do well, and value their relationships with their teachers - the teachers’ words have great power.
Don’t add a lot of extraneous material, as this report is part of the student’s permanent record.
The description should include real clarity about how the student was able to succeed in the class, and what the student would need to do to be successful in the future.
It is important that the report reflect the student back to himself or herself. While the personality of the teacher can shine through in the written report, the report is not intended to be a reflection of the teacher’s relationship to the student, and reports should be edited carefully to prevent this.
Keep reports professional and timely.
The reports need to be objective and accurate yet compassionate.
Make your intentions clear so that everyone understands the purpose of what you are doing.
Be clear. If there is clarity then people can accept the message even if they don’t like it. Conversely, a lack of clarity can create a real quagmire when there are disagreements on grades.
Have a consistent format and insist on timeliness. It is essential that the school maintain the same standard they expect from their students and issue professional looking, high quality reports on time.
There needs to be enough flexibility in the school’s report guidelines that the teachers can make reports a tool that serves them in the educational process.
What about your school’s report writing in the high school is particularly effective?
The reports are very timely. This avoids unnecessary angst, worry and complaints.
Parents like receiving the narrative comments as well as the grade. This seems to be particularly true in our boarding school environment.
The narrative reports that accumulate over the four year high school experience paint quite an amazing picture of how the student has grown and developed over his or her time in the high school.
Transcripts for college applications are prepared in a way that gives the full name of the class - Parcival or Shakespeare rather than just English. This helps colleges get a sense of the richness of the curriculum in the Waldorf high school.
The school has a consistent format that everyone follows.
The course descriptions have an individuality that reflects the unique gifts and talents of each teacher, even though the format is consistent from one report to another.
When one reads a student’s trimester reports one gets a very clear picture of how a student learned, what she did, and what was covered. Our reports paint a clear reflection for the students and parents of what was done, what was successful and where the challenges lie.
The reports are easily available electronically and physically.
The appeals process is a strong part of the reporting system at the school. Teachers are not omniscient, and need to be able to justify their thinking in giving a grade.
If there were something that you could change in relation to your school’s report writing in the high school what would you change and why?
We always work to balance timeliness with thoroughness and depth. It would be wonderful if all teachers were good writers, using proper grammar and syntax. This could be improved if all teachers used a computer to prepare their reports.
It would be great if the same classes with the same descriptions would be taught from year to year. Key teaching benchmarks for each class would be very helpful to the school and the students. This is a larger issue than report writing, but it helps with building and reinforcing the credibility of the school.
We spend a lot of time writing these reports, and despite the time involved it seems as though a conversation would allow the teacher to get more directly to the heart of a student’s performance. We are working toward meeting with parents more often, allowing a real meeting rather than a reliance on a written approach that can easily become formulaic.