Lack of Information Prevents School Improvement
In 1999, the Center for Community Change sponsored a 2-day gathering of community organizers to talk about the barriers that parents and communities face when they try to improve neighborhood schools. Participants said that getting data from schools and districts was a major problem.
Finding Out What Information Is Available
The Center for Community Change published Individual School Report Cards: Empowering Parents and Communities to Hold Schools Accountable, in April, 2001. To receive a free copy of this report, write to:
Jamaal Ferguson -- CCC
1000 Wisconsin Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20007
Phone orders: Call Jamaal Ferguson in the publications department at (202) 339-9338.
Based on this need for information, the Center began a research project to document states compliance with the 1994 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which required Title I schools to develop individual school report cards. Though the law only required that assessment scores be reported, we wanted to see what information states and schools do provide to parents. We reviewed school report cards from across the country. In addition, we selected seven school indicators that we thought provide a balanced and well-rounded picture of a school and should be included in reports to parents and communities.
Our Indicators for Understanding School Quality
The indicators we chose were (1) Assessment scores (disaggregated), (2) teacher quality indicators, (3) four-year graduation rates, (4) class size (by grade), (5) disciplinary information (disaggregated), (6) a measure of overcrowding, and (7) notification of whether the school has been identified as low performing." These indicators can help parents identify strengths and weaknesses in their childrens schools, and help compare schools in different districts. When Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act last year, it required schools to develop report cards including some of these same indicators (teacher quality, assessment, graduation rates and school status information).
Some Good and Unfortunate Examples of Reporting Information
Just reporting the data, however, doesnt make the information accessible to parents. Some states or districts have done a good job of making the information clear and easy to find, while inviting parent participation. The Hawaii school report cards (see some samples at http://arch.k12.hi.us/school/ssir/default.html) include a school description, and a space for 3 priority areas. In addition, the Hawaii report cards includes good information about the school and community profile, and is one of the few report cards that rates facilities the quality of buildings, grounds, equipment, sanitation and health/safety.
The new Ohio format is pretty accessible and understandable (http://www.ode.state.oh.us/reportcard/archives/Default.asp). Unfortunately, one good feature has been eliminated. Removed from the card were sections entitled Questions to Discuss in your Community and What to do with this Report. These sections gave some small sense that parents were welcomed to respond to the report card.
What Do You Want On Your Schools Report Card?
What factors contribute to the climate at your school? Are parents welcome and invited into the building? Are the facilities maintained, well lighted and well-equipped for learning? How could a report card, sent home to parents, both report on and invite parental involvement? What qualities of the school are important but might not be easily reported with numbers or statistics alone? How might this information be added to the school report?
Take a look! And consider working with your school district to create an individual school report card that reflects the indicators that you want to see included!