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Teacher comments in school reports

19 December 2018

In their third article in a four-part series on school reports, Dr Hilary Hollingsworth and Jonathan Heard examine the effectiveness of teacher comments.

Earlier in this series, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) Principal Research Fellow Dr Hilary Hollingsworth and Research Fellow Jonathan Heard discussed parental discontent with the quality of information included in student reports, including teacher comments.

The problem, in fact, goes much deeper, with schools, teachers, students, parents and carers expressing uncertainty around the purpose – and even the place – of teacher comments in reports.

Continuing focus group discussions with students, parents and teachers suggest that teacher comments are considered an important feature of student reports. The teacher comments analysed were found to perform a range of functions. However, despite the potential to communicate a student’s learning progress, there were surprisingly few comments that seemed intent on performing this function. While some teachers, particularly in primary reports, commented generally on learning gains, few detailed explicitly what a student could now do that they had not been able to do previously.

What’s effective?

Teachers often spend considerable time writing comments in school reports. The evidence from our analysis so far suggests that comments are most effective when teachers and schools have made considered choices around the purpose and level of detail of report comments. Given that the main audience for school reports appears to be parents and carers, important considerations include whether comments are objective or evaluative, whether they describe performance or progress, and the level of detail or ‘grain size’ needed to provide a lay parent audience with a clear picture of their child as a learner.

Communicating Student Learning Progress is an ongoing analysis of contemporary Australian school reporting. The analysis is being undertaken by ACER’s Centre for Assessment Reform and Innovation (CARI) and concludes in June 2019 with delivery of a final report. Teachers are invited to contribute to the study by sharing their perspectives of school reporting in a brief anonymous survey. To participate in the teacher survey, click here

Read the full article in Teacher: ■


About the author

Dr Hilary Hollingsworth is a Principal Research Fellow in ACER's Educational Monitoring and Research program.

More [rd] articles by Hilary Hollingsworth

View selected works of Hilary Hollingsworth


About the author

Jonathan Heard is a Research Fellow in ACER’s Assessment and Reporting: Psychometric Research program.

More [rd] articles by Jonathan Heard

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