Report cards show parents how to help schools, expert says

By Trisha Powell Crain,

The second round of letter grades for Alabama’s K-12 schools was released over the holiday break. Some education officials celebrated the grades, while others said nothing at all.

After multiple delays, state education officials finally went live Jan. 5 with the details behind the letter grades, but the federally-required information was still not online by publication time of this article.

Critics of grading schools say education is too complicated to boil down to a single letter grade. Proponents say the single letter grade is something parents can easily understand.

Learning Heroes has been working with and listening to parents for several years to figure out what parents want in a report card to help states present the loads of information required to share through the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, in 2015, the successor to No Child Left Behind.

The organization’s founder and president, Bibb Hubbard, said research they conducted shows parents are not only eager to see the school-based report card but are also using the information in it to determine how to be better engaged in their child’s education.

“That’s a good thing,” Hubbard said, because it means those school report cards are helping parents gain a better understanding of what’s happening with their child.

For example, if a parent knows their child is getting a ‘B,’ but the school earns a ‘D,’ Hubbard said, “Parents put it together that their child really probably isn’t a ‘B’ student but may be more like a ‘C’ student.”

“They are able to do this calculation to contextualize their child’s experience,” she said, in relation to what the school report card shows about the school’s overall measures.

Report cards can also galvanize support for a school that is struggling, she said. But, she said, if parents don’t have information telling them that the school has a problem, they likely won’t think there is one.

Hubbard said she is encouraged by research showing 61 percent of parents participating in a nationally-representative online survey said if they learned a school was struggling, they would learn how to get more involved in their school to help improve it.

Parents want to see that schools have a plan to improve, she said, and they’ll say, “we’re in this together as a community and we can do better.”

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