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‘No excuses’ — Parents need school report cards they can actually read, new study says

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | December 6, 2017

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All states in the country are required to issue education report cards about students’ performance in public schools. The problem is, parents have a hard time finding and reading them — and in many cases, they’re not even available in a language they understand, a new report finds.

“Getting people the data they need is essential because when families and communities have the right information to make decisions, students excel,” it states.

The second annual analysis of 50 state report cards, released Wednesday by The Data Quality Campaign, found that only nine states provided their report cards in a language other than English — even though in every state, at least 5 percent of the population speaks a language other than English at home, and 1 out of every 10 public school students is an English language learner.

“There are no excuses for states to come up with improved report cards next school year under ESSA,” said Brennan Parton, policy director for the Data Quality Campaign, which advocates for effective education data.

She said many parents don’t even know that school report cards exist. And those who do have a very hard time finding, accessing, and understanding them — and interpreting what the information means about their children’s schools.

“In a basic google search, you are lucky enough if you get to the right link in the first three attempts. Even when you land on the right page it’s confusing what links to click on,” Parton said. “It makes you wonder what’s the state hiding, why is this spread out, why is this not easy for me to use.”

The report indicates that 91 percent of parents said if they had data about the performance of a school, such as test scores and graduation rates, they would use that data to make decisions about their child’s education. And 89 percent of parents think that using an A-F rating for a school’s overall performance rating would help them make those decisions.

• Read more from The 74: State Report Cards Information Difficult to Find, Confusing to Use, Data Advocacy Group Says

She also said this highlights that “information is more timely than ever,” because demand for data is high as new state accountability systems are required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and that this data could be made available to parents more than once a year.

“Besides testing data, there are other things they know and could be reported throughout the year and could be a better resource not just once a year in September. Parents feel like one test score, one piece of information, wasn’t enough, contextual information adds to the bigger picture of a school.”

The report cards in the majority of the states, on top of having very complex information, are also written on a postsecondary reading level and with “an alphabet soup of acronyms,” Parton said.

The report states that some education terms make no sense at all to the average parent.

“When you ask parents what do they want to know about their student’s growth, they literally think about their physical growth — they grew 2 inches last year? When they hear school climate, they think about weather,” Parton said.


California has adopted a new accountability system begun in the spring, the California School Dashboard, which is the state’s new way to assess schools and school districts with a collection of color-coded boxes rating various aspects of schools. Red is the lowest rating and indicates the lowest-performing schools and school districts.

“We have a big chunk, about 21 schools in LA, that are at the state’s low-performing level and they’re still safely harbored in the yellow-color bucket,” said Seth Litt, executive director of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that empowers parents striving to improve their children’s education.

Litt said there’s growing frustration about the visibility of the system for the average family to be able to make good choices. It’s hard to read on mobile devices and the language translations are done through google translation, which is not precise.

“I think school districts have a greater opportunity to use information in a more meaningful way,” Litt said. “We are doing a lot of work with LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District), the second-largest school district in the country, on how they can share a more robust but also more useful way than the state is doing,” he said. “Districts can actually lead where the states are not.”

Litt said California’s election next year of a new governor provides momentum for this to happen.

States that make their report cards easier for parents to understand include Wisconsin, New Mexico, and Louisiana. Louisiana’s report card website is easy to find because it appears first in the results of a basic internet search. And Illinois’s and Virginia’s report cards provide information beyond accountability data.

Other important findings:

  • 18 states do not disaggregate student performance by at least one legally required subgroup, such as for race, ethnicity, gender, English language learners, or students with disabilities.
  • 43 states report school climate or other non-academic information that can provide more information about a school, including chronic absence data, discipline and behavior data, and parent or student survey results.
  • 28 states report a measure of student growth or progress over time.
  • 22 states provide context for high school graduation rates by including postsecondary enrollment on the report card.




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