Empowering Parents With The Information They Need – School Report Cards

Parent Power in Education - The Report Card

Empowering Parents with DATA: School Report Cards

Increasing parental involvement is essential to building strong schools. Students with involved parents are more likely to earn higher grades, attend school regularly, and matriculate to post-secondary education. To be effectively involved, however, parents need to really have a clear picture of how well their children’s schools are performing.

Unfortunately, many parents don’t have the transparent and useful information they need to be strong advocates for their kids and to make informed choices about schools. When information is available, it’s often hard to read and inaccessible. A simple, common sense solution is to provide families with easy-to-understand annual school report cards, much like parents already receive about their kids’ performance. These would reflect how well schools and districts are performing relative to others in the state.

What are School Report Cards?

State departments of education distribute school report cards to public school parents. School report cards provide parents with school information in an easy-to-understand format, just like a child’s academic report card. In school report cards, each school receives an A-F letter grade based on how well it is educating students.

A school’s A-F academic performance grade should include at
least three measures of student achievement:
1) Student performance on statewide or end-of-course assessments
2) School progress in raising student achievement levels
3) School progress in closing achevement gaps

High school performance grades should include additional factors such as high school graduation rates, student performance in AP courses, and students’ college-readiness.

In addition to individual school performance ratings, school report cards should also include an A-F letter grade that reflects the overall performance of the school district in which the school resides. Ideally, school report cards would also give each school and district a fiscal efficiency rating that reflects the fiscal health of that school/district.

Parents should have full access to school report card data. Every state should publish its school and district report cards annually on a website in a way that is easily accessible to parents. This information should include a ranking of all schools and districts, so parents can compare their school’s performance with that of other schools and districts in the state. Each school district should then distribute school report cards to all parents whose kids attend public schools in that district.

School Report Cards are Transformational Policy

School report cards have the power to transform what’s happening on the ground in every school. Here are three reasons why:

An annual A-F school letter grading system empowers parents with clear and useful data.

• School letter grading systems provide parents and the public with easy-to-read information just like a child’s report card.

• By issuing school report cards annually, parents can see how schools have either improved, stayed the same, or declined from the previous year. Letter grades will empower parents with more information because parents will be able to ask the right questions of school administrators and educators and compare the performance of schools and districts in their area. This helps parents understand the quality of options that are available for their children’s educations.

• Letter grading is effective, regardless of the subject, because it provides a transparent system that is easily understood by the public. Data shows similar letter grading systems have been tremendously successful in transforming the food industry. In New York State, for example, food-safety practices have improved and food-borne illness has declined since the state implemented letter grades for restaurants.

School and district accountability systems that issue letter grades are transparent and objective. They put the focus back on students by underscoring achievement and taking into account factors like college and career readiness for all students.

• Criteria used to determine school grades are objective and results-oriented. They include measures of student achievement and proficiency, student learning gains, and school progress in closing achievement gaps. These objective measures hold educators at every level accountable for the progress of every student – no matter a student’s wealth, ethnicity, or learning style.

• School report cards should be published online and sent to all parents with children enrolled in public schools. These steps increase transparency by providing parents and the public with easily accessible information.

Letter grading systems provide incentives for schools and districts to
continuously improve.

• When grades are published and widely available to the community, schools and districts are held accountable for their performance. And letter grades don’t just hold schools and districts accountable to the public – states can use them to determine strategies for turning around schools that continuously receive poor grades. The state could take a number of actions to address these low-performing schools, from requiring a school improvement plan to taking over the management or operations of schools given a certain grade for a certain number of years.

• Districts can use schools’ letter grades to reward consistently high-performing schools with greater autonomy and budget flexibility.
• School letter grading systems that measure a school’s progress in closing achievement gaps will encourage schools and districts to improve the performance of all students, including those who need help the most, instead of letting some students fall behind. Specifically, report cards should break down data so everyone can see how low-income students, English language learners, students with disabilities, and other student subgroups are performing relative to their peers – and which schools are best and worst serving which students.

Important Elements of School Report Card Legislation

Assigning School Grades

There are a number of measures by which a state can measure a schools’ success in educating its students. School report cards should include, at minimum, the following six factors:

1) An A-F academic performance grade for each school and district

Academic performance grades should include, at minimum, the following factors:

Student Achievement – Achievement on statewide assessments and end-of course assessments

Student Progress – Student learning gains in reading and math as measured by statewide assessments and end-of-course assessments

Achievement Gap Closure – Progress in reducing gaps between the highest and lowest performing 25% of students in the school and also in reducing gaps among student subgroups including low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities

2) Additional measures of student achievement for high schools

Because they face the task of preparing students for post-secondary success, high schools should measure student success not only through student achievement and proficiency scores, but also through additional measures including:

High School Graduation Rates – A measurement that includes growth in a school’s graduation rate

High-level Academic Performance – As measured by participation and performance of students in College Board Advanced Placement (AP) Courses

Post-secondary Readiness – As measured by the SAT, ACT, or Common Placement test

3) Other valuable information
In grading their schools, states and districts should have the flexibility to include multiple measures in addition to those listed above. Districts, for example, may want to include factors such as attendance rates, disciplinary policies, or school culture

4) A fiscal efficiency rating for each school and school district

Report cards should include a fiscal efficiency rating that reflects how well schools and districts are managing their money. The fiscal efficiency rating for each school and district should be give each school/district a star rating based on it fiscal performance. The start rating should reflect, at minimum, the following factors:

Fiscal Outputs – A determination how well school and district investment of resources has increased student achievement

Financial Operations – A determination of the school and district’s overall fiscal health based on best practice considerations

5) An explanation of the fiscal and academic data that informs the academic performance grade and the fiscal efficiency rating

Parents should be able to understand how each school and district earned its academic performance grade and fiscal efficiency rating; each report card should include a clear description of the fiscal and academic data that informs each grade.

6) Academic and fiscal information regarding school and district improvement, including how the school/district’s results or gains compare to other peer schools and districts

Parents should be able to use school report cards to understand whether a school or district is improving, plateauing, or decreasing its student achievement. To this end, school report cards should include information about each school/district’s growth and how the school/district’s growth results compare to that of other peer schools and districts.

Report Card Distribution

State departments of education and their local districts should share responsibilities in distributing information about schools and districts to parents.

State Department of Education Responsibilities:
• Publishing on its website all report cards and underlying data related to the academic performance grade and fiscal efficiency rating of each school and district in a manner that is easily accessed and understood by parents
• Creating and publishing a ranking of all schools and districts
• Creating and publishing a sortable list for each of the schools and districts on all measures of academic and fiscal data used to determine the academic performancegrades and the fiscal efficiency ratings

School District Responsibilities:
• Creating a prominently posted link on the school district website that directs parents and stakeholders to the academic performance grades and fiscal efficiency ratings
• Distributing school report cards to all parents whose kids attend public schools in that district

Momentum for Change: Legislation for School Report Cards Sweeps the Nation

At least nine states currently have statutes requiring state-issued school report cards that give schools A-F letter grades based on student achievement. These states include: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah. Many of these states have just recently started implementing their school report cards and it will be exciting to see how parents in those states use this information. Additionally, a number of states – including South Carolina and Ohio – have committed to implementing school report cards in their Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waivers.

Two states with exemplary school report card legislation are Florida and Indiana:

Florida has graded its schools using A-F letter grades since 1999. From the beginning, Florida’s school grading system included the following factors: student achievement scores, student learning gains in reading and mathematics, and improvement of the lowest 25th percentile of students in the school in reading and mathematics. Over time, other meaningful measures were added, including: for middle school students, the number of students enrolled in high school level courses; for high schools, graduation rates, student participation and performance in Advanced Placement (AP) dual enrollment, and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, industry certification, and performance on the SAT and ACT. School report cards must be distributed to all parents whose kids attend public school in the state. These annual report cards also include school improvement ratings that show whether performance improved, plateaued, or declined.

Indiana adopted its school grading system in 2011. Like Florida, Indiana requires that all public PK-12 schools receive an annual A-F letter grades based on student achievement. Indiana assesses student achievement using multiple measures that include student performance, performance growth, and closing achievement gaps. Indiana also distinguishes grades between high schools and elementary/middle schools, using different factors to grade each type of school. Student achievement measures specific to high schools include graduation rates, earned college credits, scores on AP and IB exams, and scores on approved industry certification exams. These report cards will be distributed to parents in an easy-to-read format.

It is important that in developing their report cards, officials maximize the impact information can have in empowering parents; school report cards that present A-F letter grades in a way that parents can understand enable parents to be meaningfully involved in their kids’ education.

Moving Forward

Parents can use school report cards as one piece of information in gaining an overall picture of how well schools and school districts are serving their children. Providing parents with this kind of information will allow them to become more active, informed participants in our public school system – something that will benefit teachers, parents, and kids alike. And when clear school report cards are available to the public, it will be easier for communities in general to address problems with schools as well as to acknowledge, celebrate, and replicate success.

Empowering Parents With The Information They Need—School Report Cards | StudentsFirst.org

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