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Grading the graders: It shouldn’t be this hard

By   /   December 15, 2016  /   No Comments

State report cards are a way for citizens to find out how their states stack up. But when the data is confusing or hard to find, it doesn’t do much good. The Data Quality Campaign looked at report cards for every state and the District of Columbia to determine if the information is accessible and understandable to the general public. The verdict? “It shouldn’t be this hard.”

school-report-cardIn a new report, “Show Me the Data,” the authors say “that while all states create annual aggregate report cards for the public with important data about how their students statewide are doing, these reports are often difficult to find and understand.”

They blame “clunky formats, obscure terms, and missing data (preventing) people from understanding the full picture of education in their state.”

Another problem is that state report cards are difficult to find and, once found, difficult for the average person to understand. Information was in multiple locations and websites, and consistency in terminology was poor.

Report cards used a number of different terms to describe children from low-income families. In 19 states, after searching for a report card on a search engine, three additional clicks were required to get to the right page. No Child Left Behind, which began 15 years ago, required certain information to be shared on report cards. Only four states have all of the required data.

Report card information is also outdated, with some states having no data newer than the 2012-13 school year. Another barrier to access is language — 45 of 51 report cards are available only in English, with no translation resource provided.

Much of the information that communities most want to learn isn’t available on many state report cards, such as teacher quality, financial data, and the number of students who go on to a two- or four-year college program. In addition, student measures are meager at best. Performance data beyond test scores is available on fewer than half of report cards, and measures of student growth is on even fewer.

The result, according to the Data Quality Campaign, is “mistrust between families and the education system serving their children.”

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Amelia Hamilton was a former Watchdog.org education correspondent.