States Not Making the Grade on Report Cards

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States Not Making the Grade on Report Cards

New report finds that education data is missing, hard to find, and confusing

WASHINGTON (December 1, 2016) – States are failing to effectively communicate essential information to families, educators, and communities about how their schools are doing, a new report finds. As a nation, we have not yet prioritized getting information into the hands of stakeholders to help them understand whether schools are serving all students well.

The report, Show Me the Data: State Report Cards Must Answer Questions and Inform Action, released today by the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), finds that states are not producing report cards that are easy to access and understand for all community members.

DQC’s analysis found clunky formats, obscure terms, and missing data that prevent people from understanding the full picture of education in their state. Titles and descriptions were often packed with jargon, clouding what the data was actually showing. For example, the analysis identified five different terms used across all states to describe children from low-income families.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed last year, creates opportunities for state leaders to prioritize empowering people with the information that they need, deserve, and have not had. This work requires engaging communities and asking what information that they need.

“We can’t afford to remain in the dark about school performance,” said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, president and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign. “State policymakers have a moral imperative to provide useful information that actually meets communities’ needs. ESSA provides an opportunity to use the information as a flashlight to provide a richer, more accurate picture of how well schools are serving students.”

Governors, state school officers, school board members, and legislators have the opportunity under ESSA to work together to improve the quality of publicly reported education data. Now, more than ever, state leaders must move away from a compliance mentality and engage community members in designing the next generation of report cards that meet their needs.

“Kentucky has a long history of using data to ensure that our students are receiving high-quality instruction and acquiring the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in life,” said Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt. “But we recognize that, like every state, we have more work to do when it comes to providing information that is fair, reliable, easier to understand, and more meaningful to students, families, and the public. The Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers states an unprecedented moment to take leadership, and they should start by meeting the information needs of families in every community.”

DQC’s analysis identified what information could be easily found on state report cards, how it was displayed, and whether it was accessible and understandable to a broad public audience.
Among the key findings:

  • Data is hard to find: Nineteen states require three or more clicks from search engine results to reach the state report card.
  • Data is often outdated: Ten states’ most recent state assessment data is from the 2012–13 or 2013–14 school year.
  • Language can be a barrier: Forty-five states produce report cards in English only and provide no resources to have it translated into other languages.
  • Opportunities to provide clearer pictures of school quality are missed: Only 13 states are publishing student growth data on their report cards.

As state policymakers move forward, they can look to the many bright spots from other states. For example, Wisconsin has easy-to-understand data explanations, as well as guidance on how to use the information.

DQC created a corresponding scavenger hunt, Does Your State Report Card Answer Your Questions?, which facilitates a tour of a state report cards through the eyes of a parent. The scavenger hunt exercise includes search terms and questions based on DQC’s review, as well as information that is particularly useful for families.

Additional recommendations on how states can use ESSA as an opportunity to improve public reporting can be found in Opportunities to Make Data Work for Students in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

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Contact: Brittany Mason, bmason@dataqualitycampaign.org, 202-393-4372

About the Data Quality Campaign:
The Data Quality Campaign is a nonprofit policy and advocacy organization leading the effort to bring every part of the education community together to empower educators, families, and policymakers with quality information to make decisions that ensure students excel. For more information, go to www.dataqualitycampaign.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@EdDataCampaign).