As parents dropping our children off at school, many of us may wonder, will they have a good day? Will they do their best? Will they learn lessons that prepare them for life? Those questions may linger even after we drive off, but with the right information, we can learn more about how well our kids’ schools are doing and help to set our children up for success.
Fortunately, it’s becoming easier to get this type of information. Every state must now produce annual school report cards with details about each campus and how it compares to others in the area. The federal government requires states to report certain types of data such as graduation rates and whether and how much overall academic performance has improved from year to year. But some states, including a number of those led by members of Chiefs for Change, are going above and beyond those basic requirements. They’re working with families to design report cards that provide a more complete picture of each school.
That’s the case in Washington, D.C., where this week State Superintendent Hanseul Kang, a member of Chiefs for Change, rolled out a new school report card tool. Over the past 18 months, Superintendent Kang and her team spent hours meeting with families to find out what they want to see in a report card and how they want the information to be displayed. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) was determined to create a resource that the community would actually use to get the information they need, make decisions and support students.
OSSE began by asking parents what common measures should be included for all schools. The team then gathered input on what the report card should look like and presented design prototypes. Families shared their thoughts on both the types of data included in the report card and the way the information was laid out. For example, when looking at early drafts, many people said they wanted to know more about how each school engages with families. In response, OSSE added the name of each school’s parent organization and its primary contact as well as a link to the school’s policy around parent communication. This is all on the front page of the school’s report card, where people can easily see it.
In response to feedback, OSSE also added information about teacher experience, reorganized the tool to be more user-friendly and worked with more than a dozen focus groups across the city to make the wording as clear as possible. OSSE created toolkits for each phase of the feedback-gathering process. It refined those toolkits with the help of community groups, which then tapped into their networks to gather opinions and share them with OSSE. Changes were made along the way and communicated back to those groups, in an iterative improvement process. Between the two major rounds of feedback gathering—one on content and one on organization, language and terminology—OSSE heard from more than 4,000 diverse voices. The end result is a tool that can be used not only by families, but also by philanthropic and nonprofit entities looking to maximize their impact in schools and by schools themselves in their endeavor to improve the educational experience for students.
OSSE should be proud that it’s providing common, comparable information about all D.C. public schools, both charter and traditional. Just as important, it’s doing so in a way that’s highly responsive to community needs and family-friendly by design. As systems around the country grapple with how best to equip families with clear, actionable school report cards, they should look to the work of Superintendent Kang and her team as a bold exemplar. OSSE spent significant time and resources working closely with the community to create this tool and in so doing, has set a new standard for school report cards.