Make school data helpful to all
On the school report card issued by the state last week, R.B. Stall High School was rated “at-risk” for 2012, just as it was for 2011, 2010 and 2009. But the state gave the school a rating of “excellent” for having improved.
We understand that a school can improve and still be unsatisfactory, but labeling a consistently at-risk school “excellent” in any area creates cognitive dissonance — and erodes the credibility of the ratings.
And in Dorchester District 2, how can Summerville Elementary School have improved from a rating of “good” in 2011 to “excellent” in 2012 and be judged to have made only “good” improvement. Getting to excellent seems to be ... well, excellent.
Periodically throughout the school year, parents pore over complicated charts that are intended to inform them about how well public schools are functioning. Many will find the task daunting. Many will glean some helpful information, which seems to be at odds with the next set of data that is published.
And many who want to use the data to make informed decisions about their children’s educations will not know how to do so.
As school districts across the state are offering parents more choices for their children’s educations, it is only reasonable to offer them more clear, useful information so they can make good choices.
The nonprofit Data Quality Campaign says it can happen. States can implement 10 steps that will help parents, teachers and policymakers use data effectively.
When that happens, DQC contends, states can make significant progress toward ensuring that students graduate from high school “prepared for success in college and the workplace.”
Sadly, DQC finds that South Carolina has achieved only four of its 10 recommended steps. And while there are states that have done fewer, there are more states that are ahead of South Carolina.
Forty-five states, including South Carolina, have built data repositories, secure “warehouses” to enable data to be accessed, analyzed and used.
And South Carolina is one of six that promotes professional development and credentialing for teachers.
But DQC also notes that the Palmetto State has failed to implement systems people can use to access the information in a timely manner. And it doesn’t do all it can to make sure people know about data that are available.
State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais recognizes that the assessment measures available to the public can be confusing and seemingly contradictory. He wants to eliminate one test to reduce the haze.
But it would be even better if data from multiple assessments could be analyzed and presented in a way that provides clarity to parents and to taxpayers.
Further, the public must be confident that the data they see are honest and objective.
The S.C. Department of Education’s website provides data from multiple tests — district by district and school by school. But parents who are facing a decision that could have a serious impact on their children’s educations, need assurance that they are learning all they need to know about which schools are succeeding and which are not — and why — so they can steer their children wisely.
The state should demonstrate that the tests students take are accurate and comprehensive, and should make sure that they are understandable to all the people who access the data.