How K-12 districts work to improve data awareness

By promoting data dashboards and state report cards, districts can share information about key indicators, such as graduation rates and postsecondary readiness, with students and their families
By: | Issue: November/December, 2019
October 31, 2019
Unsplash: Carlos Muza

While everyone agrees that students are more than just test scores, accountability data is necessary for the work of closing achievement gaps and directing resources to the districts that need the most assistance.

California’s Department of Education and State Board of Education recently held Dashboard Awareness Week to bring attention to readily available school and district data.

Like many state report cards, the California School Dashboard is available online and provides a snapshot of how schools and districts perform over time on state and local indicators, such as students’ graduation and suspension rates, school attendance, and college and career readiness, as well as school climate and parent engagement. By creating awareness of the data, the state can inform students, families and educators; encourage meaningful discussions about equity; and target areas of learning that need improvement.

“The dashboard pinpoints smaller groups of students within a school or district that struggle in more than one area of student performance, making disparities impossible to ignore,” says Scott Roark, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. “This directs the focus of educators and directs the state’s focus to the neediest districts.”

Promoting data availability

Every state must issue a report card under the Every Student Succeeds Act. District administrators then use the report card data to support initiatives, determine program quality, and redirect funding.

But these report cards are sometimes hard to find despite being publicly available. Only 42 states have report cards that appear within the top three results of a simple internet search, according to research by the Data Quality Campaign (DQC).

“We know from our parent polling that a lot of parents aren’t aware that these report cards exist; we also know that they’re tricky to find even if you do know they exist,” says Paige Kowalski, DQC’s executive vice president. “So we applaud any effort by states and districts, and the schools themselves, to get the word out that the data is available.”

Creating accessibility

Conveying data sets is just as much an art as it is a science, Kowalski says. For instance, 90% of U.S. parents prefer that overall performance of schools be conveyed using a summative system, such as an A-F or star rating, according to a recent DQC survey.

California’s dashboard uses a color-coded system: red for the lowest performance and blue for the highest performance.

To increase visibility, Kowalski suggests that district leaders prominently display links to state and local report cards on their websites. Making versions of these report cards available in other languages is also beneficial, she says.

Moreover, district leaders should use editing software to identify areas of content that need revision, and work to make report cards more concise and easy to read, Kowalski says. Distill information into jargon-free, actionable points so that families can determine what they need to do to support their children at home, she adds.

“Most parents don’t live and breathe attendance data, chronic absences, PARCC, ESSA, Perkins, and free and reduced-price lunch. It’s not how people speak every day, and it’s certainly not how anyone wants to digest information at 10 o’clock at night,” Kowalski says. “It’s important to make the data accessible to everyone.”


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