Give Parents Clear Data
By Aimee Rogstad Guidera
Parents have bright hopes and dreams for their children. I want my daughters to realize their fullest potential.
Like me, 72 percent of parents say it is important their child goes to college and earns a degree. But unfortunately, I know just how few students are truly prepared for college and careers: just a third are on grade level in reading and math, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
If these parents knew their children were at risk of falling off the path to success, they’d do everything they could to help their children. But so often, parents are starved of a critical power source: clear data and information on how their child’s school is doing at preparing their kid (and every other student) for the next step.
We know that parents deserve and want this information. In fact, in a recent national education poll, 91 percent of parents said they would use data about the performance of the school, such as test scores and graduation rates, to make decisions related to their child’s education. Just 38 percent of public school parents, however, strongly agree that they have easy access to all the information they need to make sure that their child gets a great education.
The reason for this is clear: Most state report cards, the place where parents could find this critical information, don’t meet their needs. Our review of all 50 state report cards found clunky formats, obscure terms and missing data that prevent people from understanding the full picture of education in their state.
State leaders have a chance to fix this right now.
As these leaders work to implement the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the replacement for No Child Left Behind, they have designed state accountability systems that are broadening definitions of school success beyond math and reading test scores to include a variety of other information parents also care about, including school safety and enrollment in a postsecondary institution after high school.
New state report cards can place school-level measures of proficiency and progress side by side to provide important context as parents like me look to make school choices for their children. But these state report cards have the potential to fall flat if they obfuscate school quality.
States should use a clear, summative rating to help parents put test scores in context. In that poll, 89 percent of parents said they think that a school’s overall performance rating, like an A-F letter grade, helps them make decisions related to their child’s education. Whether the rating uses an A-F grading system, the familiar red, yellow and green of a stoplight or another measure, it should be clear and developed in collaboration with parents and others with a stake in the education of our children.
The best way to meet parents’ needs is to ask them what they want, and states can use the development of improved state report cards as an opportunity to create a continuous, open line of communication with parents.
To not provide parents with this information is to abdicate the state’s responsibility to help parents and the public understand what these measures mean and what they should pay attention to most. A summative rating provides another data point, much like a “Good Housekeeping” seal, that helps parents make sense of all the other school performance information provided in a way that helps them take action. Policymakers are making decisions based on a specific weighting of this data. That should be transparent to parents and public to inform their own judgments about schools.
All state leaders, not just the state education agency, are responsible for creating a clear picture of how schools are performing. Now is the time for governors, state legislators, state board of education members and state education chiefs to show the leadership families and taxpayers deserve.
Give parents the clear information they need to inform the decisions they are making to prepare their child for success.