DQC has been reviewing state report cards annually since 2016. In that time, we’ve seen many examples of how states communicate data to parents and the public. This three-part blog series, leading up to the publication of DQC’s Show Me the Data 2021 report later this month, expands on some of the best practices our research team has identified over the years.
College- and career-readiness (CCR) data provides students and their families with important information about whether schools are helping students get to the next step. While states are making strides in terms of the availability of different CCR indicators, we’ve noticed some common challenges in how that data is shared and discussed, which can undermine the data’s usefulness and clarity. State leaders should focus on the following things when sharing CCR data on their report cards:
- Explain and disaggregate data. Some states provide a singular “college and career readiness” indicator, which is often a combination of different data elements (e.g., advanced placement (AP) enrollment, career and technical education (CTE) enrollment, high school graduation rate). This kind of “bundled” indicator can be helpful for giving users a singular data point to understand how well a school is preparing its students for their next steps. However, state leaders must also share important details about this data and ensure that it is easy to understand. State leaders should prioritize:
- Providing a non-technical narrative that explains how the indicator is calculated and what it includes.
- Allowing users to see disaggregated outcome data for each of the CCR indicator’s components.
- Including language that helps users understand what the data means and how they might use it.
- Be clear about when data is from and why. When considering CCR data, there are particular challenges with data on AP enrollment and completion. In some cases, states report AP enrollment data for the Civil Rights Data Collection, which lags behind the current year, but includes more updated AP completion data. Data on these two indicators is sometimes placed in different sections of the report card, which can confuse readers. State leaders should prioritize making report card language extremely clear about what year the data is from, and if it’s lagged, why that is the case. Regardless of which year the data comes from, states should prioritize presenting it in the same section of the report card.
- Share context. Context is critical to accurately understanding and using the data, especially for users who are not steeped in these indicators on a daily basis. When report cards report individual CCR indicators (e.g. CTE completion or AP enrollment), they are often listed out with little explanation. For example, is the AP completion rate the percentage of the total student population that scored a 3 or higher on a single AP test, or is it the percentage of students who enrolled in an AP course AND scored a 3 or higher on that course’s exam? While a subtle distinction, it provides important context and can impact how leaders make decisions. State leaders should prioritize including a clear, non-technical explanation of how the indicator is calculated, how it should be interpreted, and why it’s valuable.
Over the past five years, state leaders have made strides in sharing information to the public on college and career readiness. Now they need to take the next step toward ensuring that report cards are an effective tool for communicating with parents and the public. This work means prioritizing aspects like design and user experience, which make a huge difference in how quickly and reasonably parents are able to find answers to their questions. By thinking intentionally about how they communicate report card data, state leaders can ensure that parents, families, and other members of the public have the information they need to support their students’ success.