Kari W. Patrick is an English teacher at Frederick Douglass High School in the Fayette County Public Schools in Kentucky.
I’m expecting my first child in September and I have to admit I’ve already joined a Facebook group for moms in my area. It feels like another Facebook rite of passage! Communities like this, when used appropriately, can bring us a sense of togetherness and help us navigate through new territories like parenthood.
I recently saw a post from a mother saying that her family had chosen her part of town a few years back based on the school reviews and she’s noticing that the neighborhood school reviews have dropped recently. She reached out to this Facebook group of moms, hoping for some specific feedback from real parents in the area.
I was honestly impressed by the responses from both teachers and parents, saying that it’s a great school and the teachers really care about the kids. One commenter wrote that she appreciated the parent reaching out and not taking the “online reviews” at face value. Then it hit me, this mom wasn’t talking about the same kind of “reviews” that I as an education policy enthusiast and educator think of when I think about school reviews.
When I think about school reviews, I immediately go to state and school report cards and school improvement plans that states, districts and schools have spent countless hours revising and improving in the past couple of years. As a teacher, I use the data to learn more about the potential employers. I acknowledge, though, that I am afforded the privilege of being able to access reviews from several sources. While I know the importance and relevance of accessing and interpreting data, unfortunately many parents are still not included in the conversation about school report cards.
As a teacher, I also look at reading scores for all students and the students from at-risk populations. It’s really exciting to see a data point that might be an outlier, like African-American boys scoring higher than the district average. This tells me a school is doing something right. It’s also important to be realistic and understand that a school is not one set of data points, but that the school report card is one piece of the story. I also review school attendance, student-to-teacher ratio and access to technology to show me a more holistic view of the school.
Had I responded to the parent on Facebook with my thoughts from above, it may have been a bit heavy-handed for a social networking space for moms in my area. But, states, school districts and even schools need to do more to share the information in a parent-friendly way that encourages parents to access this data. It is their responsibility to make the data digestible, and ensure that parents understand what the data points represent for their schools and children. I encourage parents to take this data into consideration when selecting their children’s school, or even when they are interested in learning about the progress their school has made.
For example, when I did a simple Google search for “KY School Report Cards” the first link that appears is an outdated website that encourages users, in an inconspicuous paragraph to visit the new School Report Card Suite. The third link down is the most up-to-date option, which sadly is a pretty high ranking compared to what happens when I Google other states. Many parents may not know to search “KY School Report Cards” to begin with, let alone which link is the most updated and accurate. I’ve been teaching for eight years and I’ve worked with these sites many times. It shouldn’t be this difficult for parents to access, especially since we know this is a new website that is supposed to encourage stakeholders to have more access to the information.
Many parents are signing children up for schools for the coming year and are yearning for information like the parents in my Facebook group. All parents want the best for their children.This includes a system that is transparent and open about school assessment and performance data. School leaders and teachers work throughout the year to analyze data daily so that the year-end data, as reflected in the school report card, is as accurate as possible. Parents are a vital part of their child’s education process and they deserve to see their child’s daily experience, monthly and quarterly achievements and yearly data on how the school is doing as a whole.
Once parents have access to objective, trustworthy, and accurate data on schools, they can work with educators to improve and strengthen the school system, as well as make choices for their children. As we get back into the swing of the school year, I encourage schools to have a beginning of the year data night. Don’t simply wait until April to have “Data & Dessert” and hope for the best on the end-of-year assessments. Bring parents in at the beginning of the year, show last year’s data, let parents share the goals they’d like to see and allow them time to ask questions and reflect on the data available. If it’s going to happen one way or another, it’s better that it happens with informed educators in the room to answer the questions and not a random commenter on social media.