This is the third article in a series of articles that seeks to offer a new vision for what school report cards might look like so we can more accurately and fairly tell a good school from one that is struggling.
The Vision So Far
In the last two blog posts I have begun to lay out a vision for how we might rethink report cards so as to give a fuller, more accurate picture of school quality. This vision takes into account the two most important elements of an effective school: (1) its finances and (2) the quality of students’ experiences. Thus far we have included the following:
School Finance Data
Student Engagement Information
School Climate Data
Class Size Information
These indicators have focused a great deal on school finance, the faculty, and the students. While such a focus is important, there are other elements to consider when assessing a school. In this final post on school report cards, we will dive into the other areas we want to be sure to look at when we evaluate how effective a school is or might be. As an educator, scholar, and parent, all of these items are ones I want to know about when thinking about where I want to send my kids to school and as of now, are not made readily available (or available at all) to the public. As such, I would like to offer four final areas I believe should be included on school report cards along with an explanation of why they should be added and how we can measure them.
Student Body Academic Data
As I have written about at length (and many others have as well), standardized test scores offer a limited view of academic achievement. While those tests generally measure low levels of processing and knowledge of basic skills, assessments in effective classrooms authentically measure the highest levels of processing (synthesis of ideas, creation, evaluation, analysis, etc.) and can offer a much fuller view of quality learning. One way to better evaluate student achievement would be to look at aggregated student report card data. While the A-F system is certainly flawed (for middle and high schools), it can provide a picture of how well students are achieving at the classroom level. At the elementary level, grading systems differ so we could look at aggregate data in individual subjects for advanced, proficient, and developing levels. While grades won’t necessarily reveal how authentic and meaningful the learning experiences are for students, we can get at that though other measures on the report card such as student engagement and teacher data.
Along with this data set, we might consider looking at percentages of students enrolled in advanced courses, in college credit courses (at the high school), or in gifted and talented programs. This would shed light on both the opportunity schools are providing for students seeking more of a challenge along with a snapshot of how many are involved in advanced coursework. On a similar note, at the high school level we could share aggregated Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) test scores, both of which are mostly comprised of elements designed to measure higher levels of processing (e.g. essays and recorded presentations).
Career and Counseling Services
While school finance data may likely correlate to this element, it is important for parents to know the kinds of career and counseling services provided at the school. Information in this area lets us know how much support kids have when psychological, social, emotional or other such issues arise, which is particularly needed in highly impacted schools. This information would also serve to alert lawmakers where there is a greater need and allows them to adjust budget priorities accordingly. So much of what happens in a school each day has to do with issues students are dealing with at home; they don’t leave that at the door when the come into the classroom. Counselors play a tremendous role in supporting students socio-emotionally and having information on how many counselors are available or a counselor to student ratio would be helpful. Concurrently, students at the middle and high school levels rely heavily on counselors in college and career planning, planning campus visits, or applying to post-secondary schools. Parents need to know how much support their child will have and the proposed data would help better inform them.
Parent Satisfaction Surveys
One glaring need in the school report card is data around parents’ satisfaction with a school. I cannot tell you how many times I go into a school that has a poor rating on a school report card where I run into a parent who shares how much they love their child’s school. Moreover, it is quite common to hear parents ask one another about a school their child may attend to get a sense of how good a school is. How many times have you parents asked another parent about who is a good teacher or what that parent thinks about the quality of a school? While I envision a day where we have online school report cards that, like Amazon, has a rating and comments section at the bottom for parents, right now we could send out short surveys to get quantifiable feedback from parents about their views of teachers, school climate, academic quality, their relationship with the school, and much more. Hearing what parents think is often a powerful indicator for how effective a school is, as they are generally heavily invested in their child’s education.
The final area I offer to you for the report cards is data related to principal effectiveness. It is difficult to understate how important a principal is to a school’s success. The principal is an instructional leader, creates and maintains the culture of the school, is an ambassador to parents, the community, and other stakeholders, and so much more. Like teacher evaluations, we could ask students and faculty to complete a short survey on their perceptions of principal effectiveness in the most relevant areas (e.g. relationship building, leadership qualities, school culture). We might even consider outside evaluations (from district administrators or from outside the district) in assessing the effectiveness of a principal. Great leaders make great schools and knowing where the best and brightest are would be incredibly valuable information to know. Though it might be challenging to accurately assess principal effectiveness, it would be most helpful to at least have a sense of effective school leadership.
It’s important to note that none of these indicators is meant to compare schools to one another or to publicly shame anyone. I believe the goal of report cards should be to inform, not to rank or shame. We want every school to succeed and for them to get the resources they need to do so. I believe the vision I have laid out makes it more likely for that to happen.
I’m excited to report that several states are in the process of rethinking how to evaluate quality schools. Right here in Ohio, several state legislators, led by Rep. Mike Duffey, are holding meetings with various parties to re-envision a new school report card that provides information parents care about. It is my sincere hope that those looking to re-envision report cards consider the elements offered within this series, as these elements would in fact provide a far more robust picture of quality schools than the current report cards, which are predominantly based on standardized testing data. I’m hopeful that we can and will do better.