State acts to revamp much-criticized school report cards

The state got an earful about its annual school report cards at recent focus groups, where parents, business people, educators and ordinary citizens hammered away at information they said was unclear, confusing and alternately inadequate and overwhelming.

The report cards "don't tell you enough," "they're not kind to my eyes" and they "scare you away," focus group members complained.

Staff of the state Education Oversight Committee, which held the focus group meetings last month, has responded with a 32-page report calling for what amounts to a near-total revamping of the report cards.

Conceptual example of improved school report card. An example of the current, much-criticized state-issued report card is here.

Conceptual example of improved school report card. An example of the current, much-criticized state-issued report card is here.

The report recommended  that $75,000 be spent on an "intake phase" of how to fix problems, followed by work to build a "robust, dynamic web-based report card for SC schools and districts that will meet the needs of the state and its diverse stakeholder groups by fall 2018. Improvements would include:

  •  Clearly defined summaries on how schools and districts are performing that lead to more detailed information.
  • Formats that adapt to print and all digital platforms.
  • Multiple methods to find and compare schools and districts, as well as view trend data.
  • Mechanisms so that users can communicate with knowledgeable persons if they have questions (i.e. text, email, live chat)..
  •  Explanations of jargon and education terms.

The most important objective of the report cards is to measure how well public schools and their districts are doing in giving every student, including those who represent black and other minority groups, equal opportunity in achieving an education that will prepare them for career or college upon graduation.

But members of the focus groups were broadly critical of the report cards, which were last issued in 2015, with future rankings delayed until 2018 so the state can sort through all the implications of the new Every Student Succeeds Act, a replacement for the No Child Left Behind federal law. ESSA gives the states more flexibility in how to carry out reporting requirements for how well public schools are doing from early education pre-kindergarten through high school.

One key element of the new report cards is very likely to include a comparison of results at South Carolina public schools to those in other states. Under the state Department of Education's old Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS) annual tests, norms to measure levels of achievement were developed by comparing only statewide results. This led to "soft" report cards because results were well below performance in many other states. But in 2015, the state used the nationally normed (and more rigorously scored) ACT Aspire assessment tests, and that produced results that showed students scoring well below performance in previous years under PASS. The state did not convert the ACT Aspire results to formal, school-by-school report cards because of the moratorium prompted by the changeover to evaluation under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

To see the most recent school report cards issued by the state Department of Education, go here.

TOM GRUBISICH

Full disclosure: The author of this post was a member of the general focus group.