The Data Quality Campaign, an organization dedicated to advocating for effective educational data policy and use, recently released its third comprehensive review of school report cards in all fifty states and D.C. This year’s is particularly important because it marks the first time that states are required to report information under ESSA requirements.

Overall, DQC finds that the majority of states have report card systems that are easier to find and use than in years past. Forty-two states have report cards that, because they appear within the top three results of an internet search, are considered easy to access. Report cards are also easier to use. Many families now access school information using mobile devices, so it’s good news that thirty-one states have a mobile-friendly version of their report cards. Thirty-five states also offer downloadable data, which allow families, policymakers, and analysts alike to dig deeper into the numbers.

DQC notes that several states have made significant changes to their systems. The places that boasted the biggest improvements focused on improving design, including more and better data and experimenting with different processes, such as partnering with external vendors. In general, three basic design approaches are used by states: 1) the one-stop shop, which organizes report card data in a single resource; 2) the parent-facing front door, a landing page for moms and dads that links to a separate, more wide-ranging data site; and 3) the data hub, which typically takes the form of a dashboard and allows users to explore data in different ways. Many states have also started providing helpful definitions for various technical terms and data elements. When this is done well, definitions are easy to understand and summarize why the data matters.

Despite these bright spots, there is still plenty of room for growth. According to DQC, many states need to work harder to make report cards easy for all citizens to understand. Only fifteen translate information into a language other than English, for example, and text is often written at a postsecondary reading level, which DQC measured by using hemingwayapp.com. Many report cards also lack critical information about student performance. A whopping forty-two states do not include disaggregated achievement data for at least one federally required subgroup, and twenty-one still don’t disaggregate data based on gender—a requirement that’s been in place for twenty years.

Many states also lack important non-academic data on school report cards. Over half exclude discipline data, such as suspensions and expulsions. Twenty-seven forgo postsecondary enrollment numbers, though several states do report that data in places other than school report cards. And twenty-six states lack data on the number of inexperienced teachers, teachers with emergency or provisional credentials, or educators who are teaching outside their field of expertise. 

A few states are singled out as making considerable progress since DQC’s last review. Mississippi, for instance, released a brand new design that is more comprehensive and easier to navigate than its previous iteration. Texas’s report cards offer parents a “show me how it works” feature that breaks down each indicator with simple illustrations and text explanations. And Pennsylvania includes data on the variety of pathways that students take after high school, including disaggregated military enlistment rates and the number of students who entered the state’s workforce.

DQC is right that parents and taxpayers need information about how subgroups are performing, and they’re right that data should be communicated simply and clearly. Let’s hope this review helps nudge more states in that direction.

SOURCE: “Show Me the Data: States Have Seized the Opportunity to Build Better Report Cards, but the Work is Not Done,” Data Quality Campaign (April 2019).

Jessica Poiner - Fordham

Jessica Poiner is a 2011 Teach For America corps member who worked as a high school English teacher in Memphis, Tennessee. While in Memphis, she taught for Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District. A native of Ohio, Jessica holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Baldwin-Wallace University. 

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