By Ryan Jones
If you’re one of the thousands of families in DC who just submitted school choices in the citywide school lottery, My School DC, you know that finding information and comparing schools across the city’s traditional and charter public schools can be difficult and time consuming. This December, a new tool will be rolled out that should help make the process of choosing schools easier. This new tool – the State Report Card – will give families easy-to-access information for all public schools in the city (traditional and charter) that reflects the criteria that families actually consider when choosing a school, because families were a key architect in designing the report card.
The State Report Card is a component of the new common accountability system for all DC public schools that is required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a federal law enacted in 2015 to ensure success for students and schools. In DC, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which serves as the liaison between the city and the U.S. Department of Education, is responsible for implementing DC’s ESSA education plan.
Currently, when students and families want to compare schools across the city they don’t have access to comparable measurements of school performance and when they do, oftentimes the information is not accurate or up-to-date. Under OSSE’s plan, for the first time in DC’s history, students and families will have a universal school report card that allows apples-to-apples comparisons across District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools to choose the option that works best for them. The report card will also serve as a tool for school leaders to use to engage with their current families about how their school is doing, as well as a tool for policymakers and community stakeholders.
Both DCPS and public charter schools will be scored based on the new STAR Framework, a system that assesses schools based upon their academic achievement, school environment, graduation rates, and how well their English Language Learners (ELL) are attaining the English language. Importantly, a school is graded based on how well each student demographic performs, not just the student body as a whole.
OSSE is leading the development of the new State Report Card in three phases. The first phase focuses on understanding what families in DC want to know about schools when making decisions. With support from Education Forward DC, OSSE worked with organizations that have deep roots in the community to gather information from nearly 1,900 families and community members on what they want to see in a school report card to make informed decisions about their child’s school options. “Much of what is already out there wasn’t built with parents and families in mind. With the report card that we are building, we are balancing two things: meeting our federal requirements and showing the information that parents themselves have told us they want to know,” said Patience Peabody, Director of Communications at OSSE. “By having a robust set of information at the school and state level in one place, our hope is that families can spend less of their time searching the net for the information they want to know and more of their time focused on having deeply important conversations about their child’s education, be it selecting a school or plugging more deeply into their child’s current school.”
Families were interested in a variety of data points, including teachers’ backgrounds and qualifications, school discipline records, overall family involvement in schools, college attendance rates, staff turnover rates, overall teacher effectiveness and special education data within schools.
OSSE created a proposal based on community feedback that was approved by the DC State Board of Education in February. The next phase of the project will include designing the report card so that parents can easily find what’s most important to them quickly in an accessible, clear format. OSSE will then focus efforts on introducing the community to the new report card and making sure parents and students can use it effectively, with an ongoing opportunity to provide feedback.
Families in DC have a number of different options when deciding on what will work best for them. Even with all these options, it can be difficult to make an informed decision. Once implemented, the State Report Card will be an important tool for every family to be able to successfully navigate the education system so that they can choose a school that caters to their child’s individual needs and interests.
If you have any questions or have additional feedback on the State Report Card, feel free to contact OSSE at buildDCsreportcard.firstname.lastname@example.org.