When the annual school report cards are issued, many parents eagerly scan for their student’s school to see where it stands, and if it has improved. Yet when they look at the scores, they are often left feeling confused—no more informed about what kind of education their child is receiving than before. As a busy parent, it is convenient to have a simple document that gives a quick snapshot of how your child’s school is faring. But the current report card, which depends exclusively on high-stakes, standardized testing, leaves that picture black and white at best. For the report card to be truly useful as a measure of educational quality offered by a particular school to parents, it needs to give color to the culture of the school. It needs to reflect what the school is like on the inside, not just whether all students have met a predetermined cut score. I am more concerned with the growth of each student from year to year, including both students who have not yet ‘met’ grade level standards and those who have scored high enough to exceed the needed score. A school that is making strides to help students improve year to year seems like a more personalized and relevant marker of whether individual students are learning.
For the report card to be a truly valuable tool for parents, the schools need to be evaluated beyond the standardized test, using measurable data that gives parents an idea of exactly what the school is doing to partner with the parent in developing the whole child. Through rigorous research, the Harvard Family Research Project policy forum has determined that effective family engagement comprises one of five essential supports necessary to turn around low performing schools (“Beyond Random Acts: Family, School, and Community Engagement as an Integral Part of Education Reform“). Given that the state is concerned with closing the achievement gap, it should start tracking and reporting on levels of family engagement in schools. This could shed light on districts that have developed successful ways to bring families back into the equation. Family engagement on the state report card could be measured in many ways: the amount of contact teachers and administrators have with parents via multiple communication pathways per week, the percentage of parent communications offered in multiple languages, the percentage of elementary school students whose parents attend fall parent-teacher conferences, the percentage of school activities involving parents that provide translation services. If schools are serious about seeing improvement in under-served or minority populations, it is essential that parents of these students get the message that they are needed and valued as partners with the school to ensure their child’s success. Parent engagement needs to be feasible for working parents, expected, repeatable and measurable; the school needs to involve parents in the education process during and outside of school.
Additionally, the Harvard study spotlights school climate as another important pillar of turnaround schools. School climate has three basic measurements in the current report card: the number of weapon related suspensions, the percentage of students who graduate, and attendance. Nowhere is there a category outlining the expectations a school has for its students or the number of non-classroom opportunities a school offers its students. Parents know the activities and experiences that engage their particular children’s minds, and it would help a parent evaluate the success of a school if these opportunities were measured. Hopefully they would be measured in a manner that compares schools that have similar demographics. In addition to measuring parent involvement, analysis of school climate could include the percentage of students participating in school sponsored extra-curricular activities, the number of low/no fee extracurricular activities offered with transportation accommodations, the percentage of high school students that go into college or career training, the average minutes of college and career counseling provided for high-school junior and seniors, or the number of business and community partnerships that provide students with opportunities for engagement beyond the classroom basics. These experiences are often the very things that keep struggling students enrolled and working toward graduating. There are a myriad of qualities that paint a true, accurate portrait of what a particular school experience will provide for a child.
Parents need more than attendance and cut scores to decide whether their child’s school is doing its best to help prepare the students to be college or career ready; in the re-work of Oregon’s Report Card, we need to make this information available to them in a useful and relevant way.