The Intersection

Opportunities in ESSA to Empower Parents with Better Information

April 29, 2016


As a parent and education advocate,DQC I know firsthand that education data is a powerful tool for decision-making. We can use data to answer our most important questions about how schools are serving students in our communities. As such, I’m excited to see that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) renews the existing law’s commitment to ensuring that high quality information is publicly available, and takes strides to improve upon the quality of that data. ESSA also provides a tremendous opportunity for state and district leaders to go above and beyond compliance with the law to meet parent and community needs.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) required every state to publicly report aggregate-level student information in the name of federal accountability and focused primarily around publishing scores from math and reading assessments. ESSA builds on NCLB’s legacy by providing new opportunities to empower parents (and entire communities) with the information they need to hold policymakers and school leaders accountable.

If we’ve learned anything at the Data Quality Campaign it’s that the more data people have, the more they want. The early versions of NCLB school report cards helped communities see what’s possible and whetted their appetites for more. Seeing school populations disaggregated by race/ethnicity led to questions about other populations and seeing test scores led parents to wonder about other measures of student and school performance. Congress listened and ESSA provides us with the following opportunities to better meet parent and community needs.

  • Accountability systems will now reflect multiple measures of students and parents will, for the first time, see how their schools rate beyond standardized test scores in reading and math.
  • States must better track and report how well homeless, foster care, and military-connected students are doing to help communities improve outcomes for these vulnerable and/or mobile populations.
  • States are required to report disaggregated rates at which high school graduates enroll in higher education, if available (approximately 40 states calculate this indicator already). For the first time, parents will know which high schools are successfully opening doors to higher education opportunities for students.
  • States are also required to include: “any additional information that the State believes will best provide parents, students, and other members of the public with information regarding the progress of schools.” This is an opportunity to engage directly with those closest to students and deliver information based on their identified needs.
  • Report cards must include per-pupil expenditures by funding source and must reflect actual personnel costs and not just district averages. This data will shine a light on the relationship between resource allocation and student outcomes and can inform local equity conversations.
  • ESSA grants will support the design of state and local report cards in an, “easily accessible, user-friendly manner” to help ensure that families and communities get real value from the information states are reporting.

These opportunities can help states ensure that they aren’t reporting data simply for compliance and accountability purposes, but are providing a real service for their families and communities. ESSA builds on NCLB’s legacy of public reporting as a means for both transparency and accountability, giving parents and the public more useful and richer information than ever before.

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