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GreatSchools to omit pandemic school testing data from its ratings

Orville Jackson | July 21, 2022

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Parents and educators are asking: when is GreatSchools going to have new school data? 

The answer is two-fold. First, it’s important to know we are not going to give parents information that doesn’t help them, or only helps some of them. Second, we have been consistently adding new data, but its type and source may surprise you.

Omitting new assessment data — for now 

The cancellation of standardized testing in 2020 and the partial resumption in 2021 has produced two years of nonexistent or, at best, incomplete data. In collecting data from all 51 state education agencies, we’ve found that student participation levels differ widely, ranging from 97% in Mississippi to just 23% in California. 

Importantly, even in states with “high” participation rates, we do not know which student groups are represented. History tells us the highest-need students often disappear from these data first — and they are also the ones who have suffered the most from pandemic learning disruptions.

Without disaggregation, it is impossible to discern which student groups are under- or unrepresented in a given data set, challenging our ability to present an accurate view on how schools are serving all students. Using incomplete data sets to update our school quality ratings would be like trying to make a recipe with only a partial ingredient list.

This, combined with the concerns we’ve heard from many of our research partners, is why we are excluding 2020 and 2021 assessment data from our GreatSchools ratings. In most states, this means that parents will continue to see test data from 2019 on their school profiles until we can obtain and display 2022 assessment data. Each state’s timeline and data publication process is unique, but we hope to receive this data and make it available to parents nationwide on our profiles by the end of this year.  

Although we are working to collect and display this 2022 assessment data as soon as we can get it from states, we also know that parents can’t wait. They need recent, relevant school information now. For families, parsing through years of school data isn’t an academic exercise — it’s a matter of their child’s education and well-being. According to the National Parents Union, more than a third of K-12 parents are concerned about how schools are supporting students’ learning and their social-emotional and mental health needs amid the ongoing pandemic. 

Parents need timely, robust school information now more than ever, and we have committed to finding and sharing it from several new sources.

Advancing a broader view of school quality 

Data acquisition challenges aside, we know that school quality is defined by more than just test scores. Painting a rich picture of school quality includes sharing information on the resources schools have to offer, the practices they employ to support all students, as well as the outcomes the school is achieving and whether all of these things are equitably distributed. 

Even before the pandemic struck, GreatSchools has been collecting and sharing new, relevant school information with parents that goes beyond test scores. We remain committed to presenting families with a more holistic view of school quality by:

  • Sharing new data types. School quality is reflected by more than just assessment data. Components of a school’s culture, such as trust and commitment, also contribute to student success. We’ve already added this “school climate” data to GreatSchools profiles in Illinois and New York City. Building upon what we’ve learned, we are now preparing to display climate data in five more states in the coming months. By connecting more parents with this valuable, new type of school quality information, we hope more states will see the benefit of making this data accessible for families.
  • Leveraging partnerships to improve data access. High schools with strong college outcomes often attribute their success to advanced course offerings. To help parents discover schools that offer such classes, we’re partnering with national organizations that share our commitment to ensuring parents have equitable access to this information. Starting this week, parents will be able to browse high schools’ advanced course offerings on GreatSchools profiles and explore why they matter for their child’s success.
  • Spotlighting best practices for college success. In 2021, we recognized 1,838 public high schools with our annual College Success Award, which offers parents a snapshot of whether high schools prepare students to enroll in college, succeed with college-level coursework, and persist into their second year. In 2022, we launched our bilingual Transforming High School collection to highlight for educators and parents how College Success Award-winners are innovating to create more equitable and effective experiences for their students. The two-year project began with a thorough landscape analysis; consultation with school design experts; interviews with experts, parents, and educators; and a data analysis on schools with outsized success among low-income students. 
  • Improving opportunities for school leaders to share information. Who better to share what makes a school great than the dedicated leaders that walk its halls each day? School leaders can register as a representative of their school, then add information about practices, policies and courses to their GreatSchools profile. This newly revamped feature allows leaders to connect directly with current and prospective parents and provide additional context beyond quantitative data, from band to world languages to extracurriculars and more.
  • Elevating the voices of historically marginalized families. The Community Reviews section of our school profiles allows parents, students, faculty and community members to share their school experiences with others. We’ve recently improved our review tool to better support parents of diverse backgrounds in sharing their story. In the past three months alone, nearly 10,000 parents and community members added new reviews to school profiles, reflecting upon school safety, learning, social-emotional well-being and more so families of similar identities can understand how the school will support their child.

A call to action for state education agencies

As noted, we are actively working with states to collect 2022 assessment data and look forward to displaying that on our profiles when it becomes available. In the meantime, we urge states to join our efforts to connect parents with the rich school quality information they want and deserve. To do this, state education agencies must:

  • Disaggregate data sets. Giving families access to rich, disaggregated data builds knowledge, expands thinking and strengthens positive communication among families, educators and schools. A recent Data Quality Campaign report shows that only 28 states disaggregate data by student groups in their state report cards (and six states that previously did have now removed it). The effects of disrupted learning were not evenly distributed and parents deserve to know who is being left behind.
  • Calculate growth. Even without consistent assessment data from 2020 and 2021, states can — and should — still calculate growth. There is no reason why 2019 and 2022 data cannot be used to quantify how well schools have supported students the past few years. If we only look at students’ current achievement levels, we will not get a clear understanding of how schools are truly serving their students, particularly children of color. This is why growth is now key to our GreatSchools ratings, and why we continue to advocate for states to gather (and disaggregate) this data to provide a more nuanced lens on school quality.
  • Prioritize school climate data. School climate data helps parents understand important aspects of their child’s learning environment, such as leadership, collaboration among teachers, instructional rigor, family engagement and student social-emotional support. Although the pandemic disrupted the collection of this information, it’s coming back much quicker than assessment data. However, many states still don’t collect or report climate data, others do so voluntarily by districts, and some share it only at the district or state level. Every school in the country should have a climate survey and parents should be able to see the results. States can make this happen. 

Combining reliable and valid outcomes data — particularly data rooted in equity — and new information about climate, school practices and parent perspectives will give parents more of what they need to obtain a better picture of school quality today. As the ancient proverb goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Though the pandemic complicated our usual ways of assessing school quality, it has also created opportunities to find new ways of understanding how well schools are serving their students. 

Parents need accurate and equitable school information now. With a bit of creativity and dedication, together we can find it. 

This article was published in partnership with The 74. Sign up for The 74’s newsletter here.

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