Federal Mandates

Policy Group Calls for More Timely, Meaningful School Data Reporting

Twelve years ago began a new era in reporting of school performance when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act. That set of laws required states to publicly report aggregated data about their schools and districts in a number of categories — including race, ethnicity, income and other areas. The idea was to identify how well individual schools and districts were doing in achieving success with student learning.

Now a number of initiatives are underway to improve on the traditional modes of school performance reporting. Last month the Foundation for Excellence in Education announced a competition to encourage the redesign of the school report card. In August the Education Commission of the States published a report about research on making school accountability systems meaningful.

The latest project, undertaken by the Data Quality Campaign, attempts to educate stakeholders — parents, educators, policymakers, researchers and the general public — about how schools and states can best share information that will help inform decision-making and answer important questions. DQC has issued a 16-page primer on the topic of how to ensure "quality" public reporting. It has also issued specific guidance in separate documents for parents; superintendents and principals; and local school board members.

The problems with current reporting practices, according to the report, are that public reports "often do not provide data in a way that answers important questions"; nor do they provide data in a "timely manner" or in a way that's "easily accessible" by the public. They also tend to include education jargon. However, what they are doing well is protecting the privacy of individuals. Publicly reported data is typically given at the aggregate level, and at certain minimum counts, no data is reported at all to prevent specific student identification.

According to the DQC report, characteristics of the next generation of school public reporting include:

  • Trustworthiness, specifically, data that is "timely, longitudinal, contextual and comparable," and "accurate and safeguarded";
  • A focus on meeting people's information needs, not just fulfilling state and federal reporting requirements;
  • Timeliness, data that's updated "as soon as new data are available"; and
  • Accessibility, or the ability for users to find, access and understand the reporting.

The report points to several states' reporting practices as exemplar. For example, Ohio's Department of Education Accountability Resources offers a portal that provides easy entry to a number of reports; at each stage of exploration, the user can drill down to gain a fuller view of results. Illinois ran nearly 60 focus groups to develop a plan for redesigning its new state report card is helpful and accessible to everyone. Likewise, the District of Columbia, Illinois and Wisconsin also revamped their public reporting practices by getting user feedback on how they liked to navigate the site and interact with the data.

Said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, DQC's founder and executive director: "People can't use data that they can't see and isn't presented in a timely, contextual, tailored manner. This report highlights the progress states are making to ensure quality information is presented effectively to support student achievement."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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