What’s this all about?
A newspaper headline earlier this year declared “Six month school report to parents looks set to be axed”, drawing attention to the proposal in a publicly available conversation document which asks: "How can we shift from reporting to parents and whānau as a twice-yearly 'compliance' activity to ongoing information sharing with ākonga [students], parents and whānau?”.
Six-monthly school / kura reports on student / ākonga progress and achievement has been an historical requirement from government. This approach to reporting is retrospective, providing parents, whānau and board of trustees with information on a child’s past performance, and not always providing an accurate picture of their ‘real-time’ performance. Instead of using formative assessment to improve future learning, these reports are static, and without meaningful next steps for development.
Consider the world of health and fitness. A significant number of people today use devices that allow them to monitor fitness-related metrics such as distance walked or run, calories consumed, quality of sleep, and heart rate. Not only does the device show what the current heart rate is, but combining that with data on exercise input, it can calculate recovery time and suggest the appropriate levels of training and exercise to achieve personal goals based on this information. Before devices like these became available, people would generally have checked in with a doctor or health professional for such updates and recommendations on how to amend their schedule.
This example serves to illustrate (a) the ability to provide information on-demand and when required, in this instance through the device worn, and (b) the change in impact of having this information shared in this way, enabling more timely and appropriate interventions leading to a more consistent approach to maintaining fitness.
In education, the same two things are happening. Real-time reporting involves leveraging digital technological solutions that help connect parents and whānau with their children in more timely and on-demand ways. But it also changes the fundamental purpose of the reporting, from heavy weighting on summative assessment, revealing how students are placed nationally against all other children, to a focus on reporting that helps inform the ‘next steps’ in learning when it’s needed. It is important to consider the means by which this happens, as well as the purpose of reporting. If we simply report the old information more regularly, we are in danger of burdening teachers / kaiako with more work.
The Ministry of Education’s principles of effective reporting and information sharing require a shift to using technology to report to parents and whānau so that they can see children’s progress on-line in real-time. It is important to note the principles also state that parents and whānau should clearly see their child’s progress and achievement and how they are building key competencies and ‘learning-to-learn’ skills in a broad range of subjects, not just the traditional core subjects of literacy and numeracy.
McWilliams and Patton reveal that students whose parents receive regular and personalised messages with actionable information from teachers are more likely to succeed in school. But effective data-sharing programmes require more than simply sending data home. They also encourage educators and families to make connections with each other, sharing observations about how a child performs and behaves in different settings. They put the data in context, helping families understand how their child's performance conforms to expectations for children at that age or grade level. And they approach data-sharing as an ongoing process. They offer five tips for setting up successful data-sharing programmes:
- Recognise the need for discretion when sharing data.
- Make data accessible, understandable, and actionable.
- Build professional capacity.
- Give families access and training.
- Consider and address families' unique needs.
Besides the immediacy of information to help inform next steps in learning real-time reporting has a number of other benefits, including:
- enabling friends and whānau who may live overseas or in other parts of the country to share a child’s learning journey and provide encouragement and feedback along the way.
- enabling parents and whānau to access this information at any time and from any place using mobile technologies.
- the ability to ‘aggregate up’ the personalised information to show patterns of achievement at a national level, to help inform where extra resources and support may best be directed.
What’s driving this change?
The trend outlined here is a reflection of what is happening in our wider society, where there is an increasing emphasis on the following:
Demand for more timely, personalised feedback
The days of simply being ‘one of the crowd’ and accepting a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution are over. In almost every facet of our lives we can see the response to greater demand for personalisation and timeliness of response to our questions, for example on-demand access to banking records as opposed to monthly statements.
This same trend has been evident in our education system for some years now, with a variety of initiatives designed to move away from the ‘mass education’ scenarios of a century ago, to more personalised approaches. With this comes the demand from learners to know ‘how am I going’ - i.e. how am I as an individual performing, and not simply as one of a cohort? Further, we require this sort of information ‘on-demand’, and not something that is reported to us retrospectively.
Greater emphasis on formative assessment and reporting
Central to this shift in demand in education is the recognition that the greatest benefit is the use of this information to inform next steps - i.e. formative feedback rather than summative. While summative reporting will always have a place, the use of real-time, on-demand access to feedback about learning provides a much better platform to develop further learning, providing the incentives, pathways, and guidance to do so as a part of the targeted feedback. Potential difficulties can be addressed before they become major stumbling blocks to learners, and particular strengths and approaches can be used to accelerate learning potential.
Like most of our trends, the rapid development of technology is a key driver, largely as it enables us to do the things we’ve long dreamed of. The limitations posed by manually recording things happening in the classroom and the ability of a single teacher to adequately monitor real-time learning behaviours of their students are a part of what led to the patterns of summative reporting we have now.
The emergence of the Internet, of big data and of apps that teachers and learners can install on the devices that they have in their hands (and pockets) offer ways in which the observations and recording of learning activities can be much more spontaneous. This, together with the increased processing power and access to vast stores of data that can be compared, provides the basis of an entirely different way of thinking about what is important when it comes to providing feedback to learners, their parents, and whānau.
What examples of this can I see?
Stonefields School’s written end of year report forms only one part of the overall reporting to parents process. It shows student progress and achievement against National Standards (archived), and against a matrix of learner qualities, including self awareness, determination and thinking skills. It also offers general comments on: building learning capacity, collaborating, making meaning and breakthrough.
Hapara Teacher Dashboard provides teachers with visibility into what their learners are working on, so they can provide feedback in the moment. The Hapara dashboard is currently being used by a large number of NZ schools that use the Google suite of applications.
The Ministry of Education’s Student Information Sharing Initiative (SISI) is focused on developing a national repository of core learner information. This will enable data that is currently held within Student Management Systems (SMSs) to travel with children and young people as they move through the education system.
Schools and centres are using a range of portfolio applications to enable them to share information in a timely and responsive manner. Examples from schools are products such as Linc-Ed and Seesaw, while Early Childhood settings are using applications such as Educa and Storypark.
How might we respond?
Rather than becoming buried in the arguments about the frequency of reporting, we need to see more conversations in our staff-rooms and with our communities about the purpose of reporting, the ‘why’ behind our actions.
Some questions to help get you started in this journey include:
- What information is being shared with students, parents and whānau currently?
- How do we support and build capability for student ownership in the sharing of that information?
- How do we ensure information is personalised to the student and whanau? (e.g. language, use of audio and video instead of simply text etc.)
- What purpose does it serve, to lead and guide future learning, or to provide a summative snapshot?
- Whose interests are being served here? How is the learner being advantaged?
When thinking about new approaches that could be taken, consider:
- How might you engage with students, staff and community to ask what information they require?
- What use is made of the information you currently provide - by teachers, students, parents?
- Whose purposes does it serve?
- What balance between formative and summative reporting would best fit here?
When considering the role of technology, consider:
- What processes would you need to put in place to enable this that are not a burden for teachers, or mean that gathering and entering of data distracts from the learning?
- What platforms or apps are you familiar with that you and your students could be using more?
- What other information do you need to help develop a more complete understanding of what technology may offer, and what is currently being developed and made available?