April 3, 2018

Why We’re Standing with Parents in Calling for Summative School Ratings

By Daniel Sellers

Working in education policy, I spend a lot of time navigating Minnesota’s school report card. As a community member, I wonder “How is my neighborhood school performing?” As a parent, I want to know, “Which schools in my community might be the best fit for my kids?” But, I struggle to make sense of the data as it is currently presented on the report card.

To be sure, there’s no shortage of data: Minnesota is a national leader in collecting information about school performance. However, the state lags in making this information clear and accessible in a way that helps families answer the same kinds of questions I ask above. That’s why, this legislative session, hundreds of parents from diverse backgrounds are calling on state policymakers to establish straightforward “summative ratings” to help them understand how their local schools are doing. At EdAllies, we stand with these families and hope you will, too.

WHAT ARE SUMMATIVE RATINGS & WHY DO WE NEED THEM NOW?

The timing for summative ratings is right: Minnesota’s state plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act was recently approved. This means that, as you read this, the Minnesota Department of Education is working to develop a new, ESSA-aligned “data dashboard” to replace the state’s overwhelming report card. As they do this, they have an opportunity make the new dashboard as clear and user-friendly as possible. And, to that end, the state has an opportunity to join 45 states and the District of Columbia that either already use, or plan to use, summative ratings to communicate overall school performance to educators, families, and the community.

To be clear, MDE can include a summative rating whether the Legislature tells it to or not. However, a summative rating is so important to families that they’re not taking any chances: Dozens of parents have been going down to the Capitol—many for the first time—to ask the Legislature to ensure that MDE includes straightforward summative ratings as one element of the state’s new dashboard.

As a result, the Education Policy omnibus bills in both legislative chambers, HF 3315 and SF 3086, include provisions to require the state to create a summative school-performance rating system. Ratings would be based on a variety of indicators of student success, including math and reading scores, student growth from year to year, graduation rates, how well the school is closing academic achievement gaps, and how well schools are serving English Learners.

LISTENING TO PARENTS

Last month, more than 100 parents and community members attended hearings to show their support for these provisions (you can watch video of a Senate hearing here, which includes nearly an hour of powerful parent testimony, or click here to read translations of several parents’ statements). Having worked in policy advocacy for nearly 10 years, I can tell you that these hearings brought out one of the most diverse, and most passionate, group of supporters I’ve ever seen at the Capitol.

One such supporter was Maria Cisneros, from the Latino Youth Development Council, who had a chance to testify in her native Spanish. Below is a part of her testimony:

“Today, I am here to talk about the sense of urgency we, as fathers and mothers, feel about knowing the ratings of our schools…We will only achieve this if we have the correct information coming through official means—but not [just] any information. This information must be clear and understandable and must be available to all people. In programs like LYDC we are taught to navigate between the different school options, to seek which schools are the best positioned, and which will help increase the academic level of our children. However, in many cases, we find it very difficult to find this information…We demand that school ratings are public, understandable, and easy to access, that as parents we are able to see how each state school is rated, with a rating by population (Hispanic, White, Native American, etc.) and that this information be made available by technological means, in printed form, and school bulletins, that this information be available in public places and those of greater public access.”

Maria and the other parent-testifiers couldn’t have been more clear: To make the best decisions for their children, they need simple summative ratings that help them understand how their community’s schools are doing.

Of course, and as many parents explained at the Capitol, summative ratings shouldn’t be the only source of information for families. However, they are an important first step. A well-crafted rating can serve as the entry point into a more detailed dashboard that allows parents to understand the various components of the rating, along with many other factors that tell the story of a school. Instead of having simple questions—like, how a neighborhood school is performing overall—go unanswered, with a summative rating and accompanying dashboard, families can answer these basic questions and then dig in even deeper to understand the whys behind them.

Right now, we have a chance to replace an overwhelming school report card with a new system that empowers—not confuses—families. If you support parents like Maria in their calls to have overall summative ratings be a key component of this new system, let your legislators know today.