State report cards improving, education data experts say
State education report cards are providing more timely and useful data that goes beyond assessment results to include information on school climate, teacher collaboration and family engagement, but further improvements — such as using simpler language and fewer acronyms — would make the reports even more accessible, according to a Data Quality Campaign (DQC) report released today.
Show Me the Data 2017 highlights states that DQC leaders say should be considered examples for others to follow: New Mexico, for example, makes a Spanish version of its report card easy to find; Virginia’s report card includes discipline rates, chronic absence and postsecondary enrollment; and Louisiana residents can find information on a specific school in only three clicks.
In a telephone press briefing, DQC Executive Vice President Paige Kowalski also mentioned that some features on states’ report cards aren't parent-friendly, with many “packed with jargon” and even requiring college-level reading skills to interpret. Only nine states release their report cards in more than one language.
“Navigating report cards is harder than it needs to be,” Kowalski said, adding that with states currently revising their report cards to reflect the changes brought by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), now is their opportunity to make revisions. “Parents need this data to ensure their child has the best possible education, communities need it to advocate for changes in their schools, and policymakers need it so they know how to direct resources,” she also said in a press release.
Data on students and schools are not very helpful to parents and policymakers if they don’t understand what they mean or if they have to refer to multiple definitions to make sense of the indicators. Improving the format and readability of district and school report cards is a key step in better communicating with those making decisions about where their children will attend school, especially as school choice options for families continue to expand. Louisiana Superintendent John C. White also joined the call to highlight what his state has done to improve its report card, such as allowing parents to run customized reports and including information on child care and preschool to communicate that “school quality starts before kindergarten.”
As with the states noted above, report cards are beginning to include a wider range of information, such as school climate data, in part to comply with ESSA’s emphasis on a well-rounded education but also because academic indicators alone don’t provide parents and the public with a full picture of a school. GreatSchools, a nonprofit organization that many parents use to gather information on how schools compare to each other, unveiled a similar change in November. Its system, for example, now includes an “academic progress” rating showing how much improvement students make during the school year and an “equity rating,” which communicates how the school serves different groups of students, including those from low-income families and those from racial and ethnic groups.
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