Making the Grade: ESSA School Report Card Design Challenge

SBOE Team with Secretary Devos

By: Brian Robinson, Policy Fellow

Last week, the US Department of Education and the Data Quality Campaign welcomed policy makers, parents, researchers, educators, and students from all over the country to the Cleveland Park Library in Washington, DC. Our task was to work in groups to design a prototype for a school report card that meets the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA was signed into law in 2015 by President Obama and requires that state education agencies develop report cards for each school that provides accurate, accessible, and actionable data to the public.

Many states will assign letter grades (A-F) or stars (1-5) to schools based on a pre-determined formula that largely takes into account academic achievement and growth measured by student performance on statewide-standardized assessments. In D.C., policymakers have committed to a School Transparency and Reporting System (STAR) framework. All traditional public schools and public charter schools will receive a STAR rating (ranging from 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the highest).

At the Design Challenge, members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) staff used a fictitious dataset to create a report card prototype for a fictitious school, Paul Middle School. Our design included information required by ESSA such as the rating, teacher experience at the school, student enrollment, attendance, demographics, and academic performance. When designing our prototype, there were several important factors we kept in mind:

  • Data needs to be presented in the most clear and concise way possible so that any one could read and easily grasp the information.
  • Parents may need explanations for data points. Our fictitious Paul Middle School earned four-stars, however parents may not know what this means or how this score was calculated. The prototype includes information tabs where parents can click on for more information about the rating and other data points.
  • Schools are more than test scores. Many parents place value on academic performance, but there are many other factors that make a school great. Our prototype highlights academic performance data after the school characteristics and extracurricular activities information.
  • Parents want to compare schools easily. With this in mind we added a feature for parents to compare similar schools based on distance, similar program offerings, and similar applicants. The comparison page on our prototype allows for side-by-side comparisons on all data points, providing parents with clear information to make important decisions.

DC’s school report cards will be unveiled next month by the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE). We anticipate the final design will be user friendly and provide parents with the best information possible to better understand their schools and make informed decisions for their children. As with anything that’s new, there will be a period of reflection on constructive feedback to improve the design. We look forward to working with all stakeholders toward a more transparent, equitable education system with students and families at the center of critical decision-making.

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