Education Impact: What do School Report Cards Reveal?

By Sarah Ostergaard

Schools earn Report Card scores of Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, or Unsatisfactory but what do they mean?

The basis for the SC School Report Card is the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires states to provide transparency in how well schools serve students’ academic needs. Transparency is challenging to legislate, especially when data collection is complex. To implement the transparency portion of the federal law in SC, the SC Department of Education and the SC Education Oversight Committee (EOC) administer the School Report Card system and have significant discretion in which data is collected and how it is calculated.

Published annually, the School Report Card attempts to include both quantitative and qualitative information in one score. The data weighting system changes a bit each year and is intended to measure how well a school meets the EOC’s Profile of the South Carolina Graduate.

The School Report Card comprises different indicators, which can differ between elementary and secondary. For brevity, this article focuses on high school report cards.

The Academic Achievement indicator collects a school’s End-of-Course test results for two courses: English II (generally taken in 9th or 10th grades) and Algebra 1 (generally taken in 7th, 8th, or 9th grades). Until recently, this indicator captured data from English 1 and Algebra 1; however, advanced students took these courses in middle school and middle school course exams are not included in high school scores. The Preparing For Success indicator utilizes End-of-Course test results for Biology (generally taken in 9th or 10th grades) and U.S. History (taken in 11th grade) and the passage rate on a 10 question Civics Exam (generally part of the ½ credit American Government course in the 12th grade). Also factored in is the on-time graduation rate, or the percentage of students earning a diploma within 4 years.

The School Report Card for high schools also captures the percentage of students who are college- or career-ready. To be deemed college-ready, a student must: score 20+ on the ACT or 1020+ on the SAT or 3+ on an AP exam or 4+ on an IB exam or complete 6+ credit dual-enrollment hours (minimum grades C). To be career-ready, a student must: complete a career-related series of courses or earn at least Silver on a state-approved assessment or score 31+ on the ASVAB or complete a state-approved work-based learning program (or, if the student has a disability, successfully complete the SC High School Employability Credential according to their Individualized Education Plan).

Each year, specific questions on the parent survey also factor into a high school’s score; these 1-2 questions seek to identify whether families feel safe sending their children to school. If too few parents answer the survey questions, the school earns lower marks (a penalty of sorts). Having been a parent with a child in public schools in SC for years, it seems that the survey collection methods change very often. This year we have to log into Parent Portal, and I can’t remember the password provided upon enrollment so I need to reach out to the registrar for assistance. Students and teachers are also surveyed and their responses about school safety, taken out of a larger survey about many things, are calculated into the School Climate score. If too few students or teachers respond, the school earns fewer points.

No data collection system is without unintended consequences or is free from imperfections. But if you understand the specifics behind the data, and that the data collected can change year to year, and that the method of calculating the score can differ based on grade level or size of school or percentage of English Language Learners or number of respondents, and that the collection methods can change year to year, then the School Report Card can provide insight into how well a school meets academic needs. But the School Report Card system does not convey the attentiveness of teachers, rigor of homework assignments, warmth of school counselors, availability of extracurriculars, etc. What it really can indicate is where the school places emphasis. Are teachers with End-of-Course exams provided quality training and sufficient planning time? Are seniors provided support to graduate on time? Is attendance taken seriously? Is there test prep to help prepare for AP, IB, or ASVAB tests? What is done to help students who arrive mid-year? And, food for thought, is the School Report Card also a reflection of the community’s willingness to support traditional public education?

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