Fixing District Report Cards
Imagine having a fast and inexpensive way to reach many people with a great advertisement of what your district has accomplished. Obviously, that's the case with your school district's Web site.
Norfolk, Va., school superintendent John O. Simpson uses his district's Web site to provide the accountability data required under NCLB for each of the district's 48 schools. The site also trumpets the district's designation by the Virginia Department of Education as "the most improved school division in the commonwealth." Similarly, California's Mt. Diablo Unified School District Superintendent Gary McHenry presents online "school accountability report cards" for each of the district's 55 schools, including detailed information on enrollment, school safety, standardized test results, class size and fiscal data.
Just as the Web can be a powerful tool for disseminating information to parents and prospective residents, inaccurate information from other Web sites can undermine your district as well. But there is something you can do to stop outdated information about your district from circulating on the Web.
There are many state and national sites that include copious amounts of information about school districts, and it is your job to make sure the information available is up-to-date and accurate.
Several states, including California's Ed-Data site, provide fiscal, demographic and performance data on each school district in its borders. At the federal level, sites such as The Nation's Report Card from the National Center for Education Statistics offers compiled data on state and national assessments for districts throughout the United States. These sites allow you to review data from districts in other states, compare the characteristics of high- and low-achieving schools, and document needs as well as successes for school reports and funding proposals.
Some independent sites do the same. For example, GreatSchools.net offers profiles on individual schools with information on enrollment, student-to-teacher ratios, socioeconomic status, student ethnicity and achievement data. The group also develops contract versions of its Web site for districts such as the Denver Public Schools, says Kiernan McGuire, the company's vice president of business operations. "Each site can be custom built around a district's unique data and integrated into their existing site," he adds.
Other popular school data-reporting Web services include SchoolMatch and The School Report, which also supplies information on schools across the nation to realtors and mortgage companies. This helps families moving to new areas answer the familiar question "How good are the schools?" For example, the school profiles posted on Yahoo offer more than 200 items of objective data including test scores, percentage of graduating seniors, availability of advanced placement courses and personnel directories.
Setting Records Straight
Unfortunately, accountability data on too many of these sites--including your district's page--can be outdated and inaccurate. (Ironically, in August, the How is my school district doing? list on NCLB.gov were still not up-to-date.) There is nothing you can do to remove your schools from databases such as the subscription-based American School Directory. However, services such as The School Report allow administrators to update the data provided. Therefore, starting a new school year is a good time to review your online district report cards and profiles for completeness and accuracy.
Odvard Egil Dyrli, firstname.lastname@example.org, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.