Using the Report Cards

School Report Cards were included in the No Child Left Behind legislation to accomplish two purposes:  1) to hold schools accountable for meeting state-defined expectations with respect to student achievement; and 2) to help parents make informed school choice decisions.To Hold Schools Accountable for Student AchievementIt’s hard to use the Report Cards to hold schools accountable because they don’t provide enough information.  In particular, the report cards fail to provide a sense of scale, “How do we know when a school failed to make AYP based on the scores of 1-4 students versus 140 students?”  What’s more,</p>
  • Good schools can be labeled as failing.  Schools with students who get highest test scores in the state overall, could end up failing to make AYP based on the scores of a small group of students — even though students overall perform highest in the state on the tests. Standard & Poor’s admits in its Summer 2006 report on Outperforming School Districts in Minnesota, 2004-05 that, “school districts may be identified as outperformers and still not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)” and
  • Mediocre schools can be labeled as excellent.   The way the Minnesota system is currently set up, an elementary school could teach reading and math all day, every day (and nothing else) and be considered an exceptional school.

The limits of the Printable School Report cards and their appropriate use are a matter of great concern, especially in light of the digital divide.  Parents and community members with Internet access can view a school’s most recent and trend MCA results by gender and NCLB subgroup.  By looking at MCA results by student group one can find the number of students by grade level and subgroup that took the test resulting in the school’s AYP rating.  What’s not clear on either the MDE Web site or the printable School Report Card are the current AYP Targets, how the Targets were determined, and how they changed from the previous year.  This is especially important now that the Targets change every year.

At the very least, the difference in the amount of information available on the Printable School Report Card versus at the School Report Card page for each school at the MDE Web site increases the divide between the “have’s” and “have not’s” when it comes to access to information about our children’s schools.

To Make School-Choice Decisions

The School Report Card still does not tell us:

  • Whether a school is comparatively better.  Not everything important is measured on multiple-choice tests.  It is important that students can communicate effectively through written composition and oral presentation and use technology effectively.  Quality science, art, music, history, geography and physical education instruction are important as well.
  • Whether a school is comparatively worse.  A school could offer an academically rich environment with quality science, art, music, history, geography and physical education programs, and yet be considered a “low performing” school based on the scores of just a few students who may not even have been at the school for a full academic year.
  • Whether your child will do better in one school versus another.  When making school choice decisions, it’s important to look at more than just your child’s test scores.  Learning styles, social skills and special areas of interest should also be taken into consideration.  Parents should ask questions about the school’s curriculum and seek out enrichment opportunities suited to the individual child.

In sum, it’s not clear how the School Report Cards accomplish their intended purposes.  Nor is it clear how they contribute to improving the quality of education for the children in our public schools.  Although the state tests are administered in the spring, results aren’t released until August when students are in new classes with new teachers and possibly new schools.  By then, budgets are set and resources are allocated.  While it makes sense to identify schools in need of improvement, the timing of the testing and reporting needs to be more focused on the needs of students.

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(04/08)