Viewpoints and Findings from the REL Mid-Atlantic
Creating Effective School Report Card Websites: Content, Design, and Process
By Jacob Hartog and Jesse Chandler
School report card websites help parents to understand how their schools are doing or, in some districts, to choose a school. School report cards also support accountability when used to disseminate information about school performance. How report cards are developed can make or break their success in both goals.
REL Mid-Atlantic explored this process through an in-person workshop attended by parents, educators, nonprofit staff, and state policymakers from Washington, DC, Maryland, and New Jersey. The workshop covered content, design, and process for developing and updating web-based school report cards.
Content—the types of information included in a school report card—is a central concern. Content decisions are guided by values and beliefs about the purpose of schooling but are also constrained by practical questions about aspects of schools that can be measured accurately. Developers should be aware that survey measures may be misleading. For example, students in more rigorous academic environments may say they are less motivated or hard-working than students in less demanding schools because they evaluate themselves against peers in their same school, rather than against students across the entire district or elsewhere in the state (Duckworth & Yeager, 2015). Measures of academic and socio-emotional learning based on administrative records such as test scores, attendance, and suspensions present their own challenges, since each of these outcomes may be highly influenced by factors in students’ out-of-school environments (Hoyland, Dye & Lawton, 2009).
Developers also need to consider that report cards can have multiple uses, serving as both accountability devices for schools and a source of information to help parents choose a school. Report cards should also include practical information such as transportation options and school contact information.
Design includes the text and graphics used to communicate information as well as the degree of interactivity that users experience. Design is more than aesthetics: it shapes how information in school report cards is internalized and applied. Most visitors to school report card sites only stay a few minutes, so there is little time to connect and communicate with them. Only the most prominent information is likely to be seen, so developers must think carefully about what story the report card will tell. We recommend beginning with a process of open-ended brainstorming and idea-gathering to define the audience, articulate key priorities for the new site and how it will differ from current offerings, and clarify the goals and requirements of the report card, before investing resources in developing the design details of the new website. The workshop also provided guidance on careful use of colors, charts, and types of interactivity.
Process describes how report card developers gather input from stakeholders. Collecting feedback is critical to building and improving a school report card site. Developers should solicit feedback based on the stage of site development and what they are trying to learn. Community meetings and surveys can offer important insights that can inform the design of prototype websites, while data gathered from user testing, including rapid-cycle experiments, and website analytics can provide insights into user behavior that rely on users’ actions rather than their words. What do users click on? How long do they stay? Which schools attract the most traffic, and which are ignored? User testing is a common practice for developers of commercial websites, but can be equally valuable for education agencies.
Duckworth, A. L., & Yeager, D. S. (2015). Measurement matters: Assessing personal qualities other than cognitive ability for educational purposes. Educational Researcher, 44(4), 237-251.
Hoyland, A., Dye, L., & Lawton, C. L. (2009). A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents. Nutrition Research Reviews, 22(2), 220-243.