Show Communities the Data: Best Practices for Translating Report Cards for Families and Communities

Show Communities the Data: Best Practices for Translating Report Cards for Families and Communities

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.

For families that do not speak English or for whom it is not their primary language, the education system can be difficult to navigate—but state and district investments in translation resources can go a long way to ensure they have access to necessary information. Every family should have the opportunity to communicate in a language they can understand, and providing translation for all forms of communication allows for more meaningful engagement.

State’s report cards should use language that helps parents and families understand the information provided to them—which includes translating information that appears on the report card into the state’s commonly spoken languages. While we have seen improvements in the quality and number of states offering translation on their report cards over the years, there are still far too many states that do not offer any translation. Every state can still make improvements. State leaders should consider the following best practices to improve language translation on report cards:

  1. Be intentional about how translations are offered. Tools like Google Translate are a start, but those services offer literal translation (word-for-word translation) which does not account for regional dialects or commonly used phrases, and can lead to inaccurate translation. At best, inaccurate translations limit a report card’s value. At worst, inaccurate translation can damage trust between families and the school system and make them feel disconnected from their child’s education. Minnesota has included language translation for the most commonly spoken languages other than English in the state—Spanish, Somali, and Hmoob. In Texas, the report card only translates to Spanish, but includes thorough and accurate translation.
  2. Fully translate the entire report card. Every aspect of the report card should be translated. When charts, graphs and other important pieces of information are not translated, families are cut off from the information they need to support their students. While their report only translates to Spanish, New Hampshire ensures that every aspect of the report card is translated, including charts and graphs.

States have an opportunity to leverage federal funding to improve their report cards—including translation. State must invest in high-quality translation for every aspect of their report cards. And they should prioritize report card dashboards and systems that allow users to toggle between languages easily.

It’s critical that all families find, use, and understand data about how schools are serving their student’s needs—especially during COVID-19 and school closures. States do not need to wait until next year’s report cards to prioritize families by making translation improvements.