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Report Card on Report Cards: States Falling Short in Providing Essential Education Data to the Public

• Claire Voorhees

Florida has pioneered great improvements to its education system over the past few decades, dramatically boosting the quality of schools and accountability from top to bottom. Yet, like other states, more work lies ahead to ensure all schools are adequately preparing students for college and careers in the hyper-competitive 21st century global economy.

To achieve this, families and policy makers need information at their fingertips to determine how well their schools are educating their children. To ensure all students receive a quality education and achieve their highest potential, ready access to school information is essential.

Under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states and school districts now have a greater responsibility for reporting education data. In fact, ESSA provides an unprecedented opportunity to rethink how states share information about schools—to parents, students, educators and lawmakers.

Several states, including Florida, have made progress in reporting education data, such as test scores, graduation rates, attendance rates and more. Unfortunately, a new “report card on report cards” on all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., shows that very few states have been meeting the minimal federal requirements established back in 2001. Show Me the Data, by the Data Quality Campaign, reports that states currently are not providing education information in an accessible, understandable way to their constituents.

Here are a few significant shortfalls detailed in the report:

  • States are not communicating effectively with the public: Overall, state report cards have clunky formats and use confusing terms. As noted in the report, many are even missing key data points, failing to provide a full picture of education in their state.
  • Finding and interpreting state report cards is confusing and frustrating: Key data is often scattered across complicated spreadsheets and multiple websites. Titles and descriptions are packed with jargon and acronyms that obscure what the data are actually showing.
  • Some states do not provide the information that families and communities care about most: Many states lack information parents especially care about, including school and teacher quality measures, student growth measures, financial data and percentages of students who successfully enroll in two- and four-year college programs.
  • States are silent on the performance of whole groups of students: Information on student performance based on gender, income, race and ethnicity, disabilities, migrant status and English language mastery are frequently unavailable. This makes it difficult for policy makers to understand the unique needs of students. In fact, nine states fail to disaggregate student performance data at all.

While these findings are disappointing, some bright spots in several states emerged. For example, Louisiana and North Carolina recently overhauled their report cards, creating easy-to-find and user-friendly tools designed to empower parents with actionable information about their child’s school. In Wisconsin and Illinois, state report cards have clear language and visuals that empower their residents to use and understand the data.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) is helping states consider how to do more than simply meet ESSA reporting requirements. Instead, states can use this opportunity under ESSA to reimagine their state report cards and bring information and transparency in education to their communities.

To provide a model to states, ExcelinEd developed the Know Your School Project, a highly usable and engaging online school report card using Florida’s current data as a “real world” example. Our goal is to encourage all states to help parents and others find and understand their local schools’ data so they have a fuller picture of student learning and progress. Notably, we made access to the Know Your School Project website’s design and front-end code publicly available. This offers states a head start toward creating their own public reporting tool that reflects state-specific priorities and school data.

Just as parents use individual report cards to gain information about their child’s learning and hold them accountable for classroom performance, states can provide a user-friendly, online report card on their schools to provide transparency and accountability in their education systems.

Everyone deserves access to the information so critical to supporting student success—especially parents of children who are struggling and therefore need this information the most. If they had it, they could make better-informed education choices to help their kids, each and every year.

About the author

Claire Voorhees

Claire is the National Director of Policy. Previously, Claire worked at HCM Strategists where she provided clients with strategic advice on new approaches to education reform. Claire was also an instructor at Koç University in Istanbul, teaching a comparative course on education rights and policies in the U.S. and Turkey. Before spending time in Turkey, Claire was an associate at Hogan Lovells law firm and served as an associate director in the White House Domestic Policy Council where she assisted senior staff in shaping the Administration’s education policies. Claire began her career as a fourth grade teacher at P.S. 43 in the South Bronx, New York. A native of Washington, D.C., Claire earned a bachelor’s degree from Duke University, a master of science in elementary education from Mercy College, a master of public policy from Georgetown University Public Policy Institute, and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.