School data parents want most comes from their child’s teacher

12:00 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017 Education
Fulton County Schools had 17 schools that posted double-digit improvements on the state College and Career Ready Performance Index. Leading the pack is Hillside Elementary School, shown here, which saw its score go up nearly 25 points to 89.3. (Photo/FCS)

Before Georgia rolled out its new school rating system a few years ago, a state Department of Education team briefed the AJC on the nuances of the College and Career Ready Performance Index. Too bad DOE couldn’t make house calls as many parents still don’t understand CCRPI, a complex grading system that replaced the overly simplistic Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP label.

DOE released the latest round of school grades Thursday, showing a slight rise in overall school performance. CCRPI rates schools on a 1 to 100 score under the rationale that parents understand what a 100 means on a test, so they can grasp that a 65 is a problem and a 95 is a plus. The grades spotlight which schools need intervention from the state, and give parents a handle on the quality of instruction and leadership at their school.

Many parents seem unaware of all factors that determine their school’s grade, and there are a lot: There are 21 sets of measures for elementary schools, 19 for middle schools and 30 for high schools. However, student scores on the state test, the Georgia Milestones, remain a key influence in how well a school fares.

Despite the range of data points offered up in state report cards, surveys show parents don’t rely on state information to judge their schools. In a recent poll of K-8 parents by Learning Heroes, a nonprofit that informs parents how to support their kids in school, more than three out of four parents said their child is getting a good education and two-thirds say their child is above average academically.

The poll found parents give more weight to class grades, classroom assessments, and comments from teachers than state tests to figure out how their child is doing. Two thirds of parents believe report card grades provide a more accurate picture of their child’s academic standing than state test scores. In fact, about a quarter of parents are unaware of their child’s state test scores.

Bibb Hubbard, the founder and president of Learning Heroes, spoke Thursday in Atlanta to the National Association of State Boards of Education, the elected or appointed leaders in each state who oversee state testing and annual ratings, such as the CCRPI. Hubbard urged state leaders to dissect the information they provide parents about school quality and replace education jargon with straightforward language.

For example, many states, including Georgia, evaluate schools for “climate,” which parents sometimes equate to whether the air conditioning works, not whether students feel safe, according to Hubbard. Parents can misinterpret “growth” as enrollment increases rather than academic progress. Hubbard recalled how pleased a mother was with all the teachers at her school holding “emergency certification” because she mistook it for CPR training.

Also speaking at the conference was Dakarai I. Aarons, vice president of strategic communications for the Data Quality Campaign, which, in a 2016 report called “Show Me the Data,” faulted state report cards for failing to be parent-friendly. “These report cards were created because they were required by No Child Left Behind. It is time to move beyond compliance to service. Parents want this data, but it is often indecipherable or inaccessible,” said Aarons.

Among Hubbard’s recommendations to improve state report cards:

• Overall, parents prefer a summative rating — in the form of a single grade that they can easily and quickly grasp — to a dashboard with an array of categories and ratings, some of which may be obscure and irrelevant to their child. If you take a summative approach, Hubbard said it is important to explain the measures that factor into the rating. “Parents want something short and simple. If you put something in front of them that is dense with multiple pages, parents lose interest,” said Hubbard.

• Parents care more about district data than state data, and they prefer to see how their schools stack up to those around them rather than statewide.

• Breaking down test scores by race on state report cards — known as disaggregating — can be a minefield, Hubbard warned. “When it comes to presenting this data, African-American and Hispanic parents feel it is a shaming exercise,” she said. “You are showing their children can’t learn. Without context, it becomes confusing and proves a terrible stereotype at worst and feels negative at best.”

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