Best Practices

Revamping the School Report Card

Last year a group of parents, educators and representatives from nonprofit organizations and state agencies attended a workshop to develop ideas for creating more effective web-based school report cards — the kind that show how well schools are performing. Recently, the convener of that workshop shared a summary of the recommendations offered during the day.

The event was sponsored by the mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Program specifically serving Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. RELs work with educators and policymakers to develop and use research to improve learning outcomes for students.

The presentations focused on three areas related to the report card website: content, design and process.

In the area of content, the message was to make sure the developers of the website understood a few basics. First, report cards "can have multiple purposes." Not only do they serve as "accountability devices" for the schools, which need to adhere to state ESSA education plan requirements, but they also are used by parents as a "school finder," which means non-ESSA information such as school address, distance to the school and availability of transportation options might be important to include as well. Also, as content is developed, the people in charge need to be careful about what and how information is conveyed so that readers aren't misled. One example pertained to the use of measures of academic and social-emotional learning based on test scores, attendance and suspensions, all of which can be "highly influenced by factors in students' out-of-school environments."

Regarding design, the moderator noted that people typically spend just a few minutes on a school report card site. For that reason, developers need to "think carefully" about what "story" is being told by the report card. One suggestion: Before jumping into the development of the report card, brainstorm and gather ideas for defining the audience, develop a list of the priorities and how the results will differ from the existing report card and clarify goals and requirements. The design session also considered the use of color combinations that work for all users — including those who are colorblind — and how to design charts and tables that will relay data in understandable and non-misleading ways.

The process portion of the workshop examined how report card developers gather input from the stakeholders. This feedback "is critical to building and improving" the school report card site, the facilitator stated. That can be handled through community meetings and surveys and honed through user testing of the site and monitoring web analytics related to clicks and length of stay to understand user activity.

Videos and transcripts from the event are available for public viewing on the REL website.

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 dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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