Effective Practices : Report Writing and Documentation
Other Documentation, Interim Reports and Notices
Report Writing and Documentation Section 4
1. Does your school write interim reports in any situations? For example, are D/F notices sent in the high school mid-term to provide early notice of substandard work? Or are there short-form interim notices that are sent out mid-term? Please describe these interim notices, how they are used, and attach a copy if available.
2. What sort of documentation is placed in the student file following parent teacher conferences?
3. How do you ensure that parents are aware of and understand any areas of concern regarding academic progress and social integration?
4. What requirements exist at your school with respect to placing copies of correspondence (including emails) into student files?
5. Does your school have guidelines regarding the creation and maintenance of school files on students versus teacher’s personal files on students? Attach a copy of these guidelines if available, and comment on the key aspects of official versus personal files.
6. Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy with regard to creating and maintaining documentation of student progress other than year end progress reports.
7. What about your other documentation practices is particularly effective?
8. If there were something you could change in relation to your school’s creation and maintenance of other student progress documentation, what would it be and why?
Does your school write interim reports in any situations? For example, are D/F notices sent in the high school mid-term to provide early notice of substandard work? Or are there short-form interim notices that are sent out mid-term? Please describe these interim notices, how they are used, and attach a copy if available.
Mid year reports are generated by most schools surveyed for students in first through eighth grade. These reports are typically of a short form variety. Some schools have reports that are preformatted with various headings. Other schools provide material that is in narrative form. In some cases these reports are issued in conjunction with a parent teacher conference; in other cases they are prepared independently of the mid-year conference. (See: Sample Mid-Year Reports)
In the high school reports are generated as each block is completed, and mid-term reports are generated in all ongoing skills classes such as English, mathematics, and foreign language. These progress reports usually include just a few short phrases and a grade-to-date in the class. (See: Progress Report)
High schools also employ “warning” notices whenever a student is in danger of falling behind in a class. Some schools call these forms “D/F notices”; others refer to them as “notices of academic concern”. Some schools issue them whenever a student is receiving a grade of C or lower; other schools issue them only if the student is performing below C level. Some schools use a similar form when there are issues of concern that are non-academic in nature. This notice of concern might be generated when the student is failing to engage in a healthy fashion in the work of the classroom, or when social or emotional issues arise that need additional support from teachers and parents. (See: D/F Notice and Note of Concern)
What sort of documentation is placed in the student file following parent teacher conferences?
Some schools have a conference form that is placed in the file following each parent teacher conference in the lower school. A teacher prepares this form in advance of the conference. It notes a student’s strengths and challenges, and makes recommendations. It also includes the date of the conference and gives the names of the people present for the conference. After the meeting the teacher will add any comments or make any amendments as may be appropriate. Both the teacher and the parent sign the report. A copy of the report is handed to the parent and the original is placed in the child’s file. (See: Sample Parent-Teacher Conference Summary)
In cases where the conversation about a child is extensive and goes beyond the comments placed in the original report, or if a child is placed on contract, a summary of that conversation or a copy of the contract is placed in the child’s file as well.
In schools without a standardized form for parent teacher conferences practices vary. In some schools the teacher just makes notes for his/her personal file on the student and nothing is placed in the official file. In other schools there is no prescribed form, but teachers are asked to place a brief note about the conference into the student’s file. This same varied approach is found in the high schools surveyed - some place a conference form in the student’s file whenever there is a conversation between parent and teacher and other school’s rely on the teacher’s discretion to determine whether the conversation was substantive and that notes needed to be added to the student’s permanent record.
How do you ensure that parents are aware of and understand any areas of concern regarding academic progress and social integration?
Parent teacher conferences are a primary vehicle for making sure that parents are aware of issues, as there is no substitute for a direct conversation. Mid year and year end reports are helpful too, but the schools surveyed felt strongly that these lack the sense of mutual understanding that is developed in a personal meeting.
Many high schools have a formal process by which students can challenge grades they feel are inappropriate. The midterm reports sent out in the high school and the notices of concern described above are also helpful vehicles for communicating concern. These forms often require a parent’s signature and that the signed form be returned to the school office, and usually include a teacher’s phone number so additional contact can be made if warranted.
Most schools report that they use a buddy system for reading all reports, letters and notices that are sent out. Having another person read this information before it is mailed helps to ensure that the message is clearly stated.
One school uses something called decorum partners for each class teacher. The decorum partner is a buddy who has done the grade recently so that challenges can be discussed with an experienced colleague. Questions that may be discussed between decorum partners might include, “What do we do for Advent in this grade,” or, “I’m worried about this child and I’m not sure of the best way to handle it.” The decorum partner is a talking partner who can speak from experience on many fronts.
Some schools have an educational support group. This group carries students who have particular social, emotional or academic needs and ensures that students receive the tutoring, counseling or other help they may need. Parents are always notified if a student is placed in the care of the educational support group, and members of this group may attend parent teacher conferences to help ensure that communication is clear and open.
What requirements exist at your school with respect to placing copies of correspondence (including emails) into student files?
The general rule of thumb among schools surveyed is that any correspondence on an official school form or on stationery is placed in the student’s file. Class advisors and teachers often keep telephone logs of all conversations, but none of the schools have this as a requirement.
The topic of email correspondence is a new one that is gaining attention in Waldorf schools, but there is little in the way of formal policy or procedure around this topic. Only one school stated that it has a policy that asks that teachers not use email correspondence to address issues related to individual students. The school’s policy states that email can be used to send invitations to class parent meetings and other class or school-wide events, or to confirm the time and place for meetings between individual parents and teachers. However, email should never be used to discuss particular issues or events regarding a student. Any such correspondence should be placed on school stationery or other school forms, and the school’s usual practice of having a second person read the correspondence prior to mailing and placing copies of the material in the student’s file will apply.
Does your school have guidelines regarding the creation and maintenance of school files on students versus teacher’s personal files on students? Attach a copy of these guidelines if available, and comment on the key aspects of official versus personal files.
In most schools teachers are welcome to keep personal files, but all official correspondence must be kept in the school file. Typically the school file includes all correspondence relating to grades and performance reports, and any correspondence relative to disciplinary action.
Several schools surveyed mentioned that they were in the process of writing record retention policies for their schools. These policies vary significantly from state to state, and can be affected by local ordinance as well. Due to the wide variation in student record retention regulations, samples of the documents used by individual schools are not reproduced here. Schools are urged to work with local counsel to develop retention policies that are appropriate for their locations.
However, the editor suggests that the following steps, published by the National Association of Independent Schools, can be a helpful guide to the process of developing a records retention system. (Excerpt from Records in Independent Schools: What, How Long and How? by Debra P. Wilson, April 2005)
A. Make a list of the documents routinely createdB. Check with your school’s attorney
- Each office/department
- Electronic or paper
- Technology group should report on how long electronic documents (both actual e-files and e-mail) are maintained, and how long it may be practical to do so in various formatsC. Check with your school’s accountant/auditor
- Statute of limitations for various records in your state
- Student records requirements for your state
- General overview of your eventual document retention and destruction planD. Name a point person/office for document destruction notification
- These individuals are also priceless when it comes to input on document retention; they may have helpful input on both the front and back end of your planningE. Train Staff
- Create a process that flows through this person at all timesF. Routinely review the time tables and practices in effect.
- Implementing new policies and systems does not happen overnight, and document retention is not the most scintillating topic, so this may take more time; however, getting everyone on board early will help the process
- Rally support from the staff for the initiative, and plan a regular “house cleaning” to ensure that the process is actually undertaken
- Schools should review both their retention schedules and processes every few years to ensure that nothing substantial has changed that would impact the way records are handled.
Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy with regard to creating and maintaining documentation of student progress other than year end progress reports.
Ongoing communication and timely communication are the keys to effective communication about a student’s progress.
While there needs to be timely ongoing communication on issues of concern, the documentation cannot be judgmental. There must also be recognition of the student’s gifts, making it clear that a student is seen as a whole person.
In the lower school parents should hear about issues personally before seeing them in print. In the high school students should be notified prior to notices being sent home regarding grades of C or lower.
There are always some parents who declare they weren’t aware of an issue, so it’s helpful to keep all the appropriate documentation.
We encourage teachers to speak with each other about difficult situations, whether the difficulty is with a student or with the student’s parents. Teachers should feel that they are supported by their peers. There is always an opportunity to have more than one teacher at a conference if the teacher desires this. Having a second teacher present can be done for several reasons - sometimes she will serve only as a witness to the conversation. At other times she will be used to restate information in a way that will allow both the teacher’s and the parent’s concerns to be heard.
The school’s policy of having two parent teacher conferences a year, and the requirement that written documentation be prepared for these conferences, result in excellent documentation being available in the student file. In addition, whenever a student is placed on contract or academic probation this is documented in the file as well.
In the high school students need to always be notified verbally prior to a notice being sent home to parents.
In the high school one of the cornerstones is that there is a very honest appraisal of the students and their achievements.
Disciplinary actions need to be clearly documented, and placed into the student’s file. In the past the school did not always have what it needed in the file, and sometimes found that it relied on memory too much.
What about your other documentation practices is particularly effective?
The documentation around contracts and academic probation is excellent. Any extended conversations with parents about a student are followed up with a written letter as well.
There is a 6 week provisional period for all new students. There is a high level of contact between the parents and the teacher during this time, and the final letter confirming the child’s acceptance into the class is placed in the file.
The school has a consistent process with regard to documentation that seems to work well. Parents seem to feel that they are communicated with regarding their child’s progress.
The process is not just consistent but is also well documented.
The school has significantly improved its documentation in the area of parent conversations, with a standard form being placed in the file whenever a conversation takes place.
If there were something you could change in relation to your school’s creation and maintenance of other student progress documentation, what would it be and why?
There is a question as to whether a written midyear report is needed in first grade, and whether a second required parent conference would be beneficial instead of the midyear report in this grade.
The school needs to create a policy regarding the use of email and the retention of copies of email correspondence.
The school would benefit from a policy on the use of personal student files by teachers, and how these are different from the school’s official student files.
The school needs to create a document policy regarding the items that should be maintained in the student’s permanent file.
The school continues to emphasize the development of written guidelines about documentation so that processes are consistent, regular and thorough. Consistency in this area is important, so that the school’s performance is a reflection of institutional intentions, rather than be a reflection of the individual teacher’s strengths or weaknesses in this area.