Parents receive multiple report cards for their children during the course of the school year and the information is valuable, but limited. We get a sense of our child’s performance in each school subject and an indication of the number of days they’ve been tardy or absent, but this snapshot tells of how our own student is doing but tells us nothing about the overall performance of the school they attend.
In a packed room at a Providence elementary school on a Saturday morning in July, Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee stepped to the microphone and said, “we are not being honest with parents.” It was the final community forum hosted by new state education commissioner Angelica Infante-Green and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza in the wake of the Johns Hopkins damning report on the Providence Schools. McKee went on to propose, for the first time publicly, annual report cards for schools. The idea is simple but potentially game-changing. The basic gist is that every parent in the state would receive an annual report about how well their child’s specific school is doing—not the district as a whole but their individual school. The information would be presented in simple form, free of education jargon, and include the following:
- The percentage of students in the school who read and write on grade level
- The percentage of students in the school who do math on grade level
- The absenteeism rates for students and teachers
There is other important information—perhaps about special education or school safety—that could also potentially be included. Part of McKee’s proposal is that parents would have to sign off on having seen the report, whether at a presentation at the school or through targeted outreach.
There is a well-documented disconnect between parents’ perceptions of their children’s school and what the data says. Learning Heroes co-founder Cindi Williams captures it perfectly when she says “there is a Grand Canyon-size gap between what parents are told about their children’s learning and what the school knows to be true.” She further illustrates this point when she lays out the following contradictory statements:
● Almost 90 percent of all parents, irrespective of race, income, geography or education level, are confident that their child is at or above grade level in reading and math.
● 84 percent of parents rate their child’s school as excellent or pretty good.
In Rhode Island, 34 percent of students read and write on grade level. That number drops to 27 percent in math.
Five states have already begun providing school report cards to parents—Rhode Island is not one of them. On the contrary, we have zero direct accountability to families built into our state education system. Parents do not have easy access to the full picture and that has led, at least in part, to the persistent misconception that high marks on a child’s report card are an indication that the child is meeting state benchmarks in math and reading, even though most are not.
McKee was right when he said “we aren’t being honest with parents.” His proposal for school report cards is a smart and meaningful way to change that.
This piece first ran as an opinion column here in The Valley Breeze.