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43 states include more than K12 test scores on report cards, but work remains

States must provide more information than what’s required on federally mandated school report cards to give administrators and parents a clearer view of the education culture, according to a recent report from the nonprofit policy organization Data Quality Campaign.

Since No Child Left Behind, states have had to create report cards detailing the academic performance of students in each school. Some 43 states have now added measures that go beyond test scores—such as chronic absences, discipline rates and course offerings—to offer a wider view of how a school is performing and what programs are available to students.

However, 18 states fail to disaggregate student performance by subgroups such as race, gender and disability—a legal requirement. Many others do not make information easily accessible and understandable to parents and community members.

“At their best, report cards help answer questions and inform actions,” says Abigail Cohen, senior associate of policy and advocacy at Data Quality Campaign.

Report cards also offer administrators a check on how their school is doing, and the chance to tell stories about their schools, Cohen says. “They should be saying, ‘Here’s how we stack up. Here’s what’s going really well. Here’s what’s not going so well, and what we’re going to do about it.’”

State success

Data Quality Campaign named Illinois, Virginia, Louisiana, Wisconsin and New Mexico as examples of states with strong report cards that provide information beyond accountability data that is easy to find and simple for parents to understand.

In Virginia, the state redesigned its report cards to replace an A-F school grading system. “The board wanted to move beyond a system that was based solely on the percentages of students able to pass the state tests,” says Charles Pyle, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Education.

The state polled 20,000 people about which factors they thought were important for school quality, and held a series of discussions with superintendents, principals and other groups. This resulted in interactive report cards called School Quality Profiles, released in 2017. Parents can view data on absenteeism, graduation rates, and moving in and out of districts, all broken down by demographic groups.

Tips for states

The Data Quality Campaign offers three tips for improving report cards quickly:

  • Translate state report cards to languages other than English. Only nine states offer report cards in other languages, and typically only in Spanish.
  • Simplify the language. These report cards tend to include acronyms and jargon that people outside of education do not understand.
  • Disaggregate data. The law requires states to break data down by student subgroup, but that information is often inconsistent, missing or difficult to find.

Administrators can contact their state Department of Education to get involved with improving report cards. “As a school or district leader, you don’t want to be the only one not talking about the data from your school,” Cohen said. “Too often, we find that an advocacy group or newspaper is telling a story about your schools. As a leader, you have an opportunity to own that narrative.”