New Illinois School Report Cards
Next year, when the Illinois State Board of Education releases its annual school report card for each public school in the state, the data will look different from recent years. Following a model developed in 1987-88, Illinois school report cards have been primarily driven by students’ results on statewide tests and, according to former State School Superintendent Glenn “Max” McGee, “the [current] report card obfuscates rather than clarifies.” Beginning next year, school report cards will offer a much more holistic and transparent picture of the quality of education offered in each of the state’s schools and districts.
In 2009, Illinois created an education reform group called the P-20 Council. This group, together with the Boston Consulting Group, has conducted nearly 60 focus groups with administrators, teachers, parents, students, and community members across the state in order to create a more comprehensive and understandable method for reporting on schools’ performance.
The P-20 Council announced that “[t]he new report card is organized to help parents understand how a school or district is performing in three key areas: (1) student outcomes, (2) student progress, and (3) the school environment.” The data will include such measures as the pass-rate of 8th-graders who take algebra; the availability of Foreign Language and college-level Advanced Placement courses; how often teachers are absent and how they rate on performance evaluations; and how safe students feel at school.
The Chicago Tribune reported: “Test scores will be listed on the new report cards, but the data will emphasize the percentage of students who score on the high end — called ‘exceeding’ standards — not just the percentage of kids who pass, or meet standards, on the tests. ‘We’re not going to be satisfied just looking at the number of students meeting (standards),’ McGee said. ‘It is too low a level.’”
In addition to more comprehensive information, McGee and his colleagues hope to present the new report cards’ data in “a good format that they (parents and the public) can use to make decisions.”
The new report cards will be presented in three tiers, each targeting a different audience. The first tier will include condensed data in a format the Council hopes an average parent will look through. The second will provide more details to the general public and school leaders, and the third will include even more comprehensive data, geared toward educators and researchers.
The creation of Illinois’s new report cards has not been without its challenges. The process of determining what to include on the new report cards generated controversy as educators struggled to determine which measures accurately reflect or misrepresent a school’s educational quality. Additionally, in turning to a more holistic view of schools, the new system will focus on standards besides the Adequate Yearly Progress requirements set forth in No Child Left Behind. Since the federal law is still in force, Illinois is seeking permission to stop judging their schools according to AYP status.
Despite these challenges, the P-20 Council reports that they have received “overwhelmingly positive” feedback from focus groups in response to their draft report card: “90% of participants said they are likely to use the new report card” and “80 to 90% of participants found the report card to be easy to understand.” Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus explained: “Whatever we do, our goal is to make a rating system that is transparent and informative.” Chicago Tribune, 10-31-12