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State Report Cards Go Digital in the Northeast

David Blumenthal

David Blumenthal
Researcher, REL Northeast & Islands

David English

David English
Senior Technical Assistance Consultant, REL Northeast & Islands

Fri Nov 01 2019

The state-issued school report card as we know it is quickly transforming to a richer and more detailed picture of district- and school-level performance. Following the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, states—including those in the Northeast & Islands Region—are using an expanded suite of digital tools to develop new online report cards that provide more detailed and meaningful information about the educational experiences of students and educators in their districts and schools. REL Northeast & Islands is assisting Vermont and other states in the region in the rollout of the new online report cards by helping support the use of the online report card data in school improvement planning.

ESSA encourages states to expand the types of data included within their accountability system. As a consequence, numerous states have redesigned online report cards to focus less on generating a static snapshot of school performance, such as an overall A–F letter grade, and more on digital tools to present data in various ways, such as viewing customized trend data. These new online report cards are interactive digital dashboards for navigating many types of data.

The new school report cards reflect a shift in focus on accountability under ESSA, which requires states to report on five indicators for annual differentiation (that is, determining how districts and schools are preforming relative to their peers in the state) and for periodically identifying low-performing schools. These indicators are reported at the state, district, school, and subgroup levels and must include:

  1. At least one proficiency or other indicator of achievement on annual state tests
  2. An indicator of English language proficiency progress
  3. Four-year high school graduation rates and the option to report five-year rates
  4. An additional academic indicator for elementary and middle schools (most states have elected to include student growth)
  5. An indicator of school quality or student success, which has been popularly referred to as the “fifth indicator.”

States have developed a variety of measures for this last requirement, including college and career readiness measures, such as participation in work-based learning; perceptual measures of school climate and social-emotional learning supports; participation rates or credit-attainment rates in courses that constitute a well-rounded education (e.g., foreign languages, the arts); and early learning measures such as the percentage of students in grades K–3 on track to read by the end of grade 3.

All states have now released the first round of report cards under the ESSA accountability requirements. In the Northeast & Islands Region, states are including various types of measures that go beyond the snapshot of academic proficiency emphasized before ESSA:

  • Connecticut includes indicators of on-track status to high school graduation, as well as course participation in physical fitness and access to arts education.
  • Maine and Massachusetts include student growth in English language arts and mathematics in grades 3–8.
  • New Hampshire includes measures of school and classroom environment, including disciplinary incidents and average class size.
  • New York and Rhode Island include proficiency indices that allow for partial credit for students’ progress toward proficiency levels on state tests.
  • Rhode Island includes teacher absenteeism rates and rates of student suspension.
  • Vermont provides information about the personalization of learning, including the percentage of students who have developed a personalized learning plan.

Measures that must be reported but not included in accountability determinations have been expanded to include chronic absenteeism, rates of suspension and expulsion, incidents of violence including bullying, rates of enrollment in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate coursework, rates of participation in dual or concurrent coursework, personalization of the educational experience (such as adoption of personalized learning plans), and other indicators of school-level performance.

With so many new measures included, the new online report cards provide parents with a more complete view of school performance and quality. However, sharing data with parents is just one function of the report cards. Practitioners need guidance on understanding the design and organization of the new report cards and how to use the rich data they contain to make better decisions.

To address this need, REL Northeast & Islands researchers are providing support to states and districts to help them make the most of these new data tools. One example of this work is in Vermont, where REL staff are co-developing a workshop with the Vermont Agency of Education on reviewing data from the state’s new online report card, the Education Quality Review (EQR) Annual Snapshot. The workshop will provide tools and guidance to school- and district-based practitioners on using data from the EQR Annual Snapshot to identify root causes of low academic performance and to generate plans to address areas of low performance in alignment with the state’s continuous improvement processes.

Another challenge is ensuring the public can access the online reports cards. A report from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) noted that parents or the general public in many states were unable to find the online report cards through a web search using Google. In an April 2019 update, DQC noted that 42 states now have their online report cards appear within the top three search results. Awareness of and the ability to access report cards are a matter of equity and transparency. When parents and community members can access the report cards, they can, with additional support and expertise, analyze the quality of education provided to their children. Additional steps have been taken to make these online report cards available through both desktop and mobile devices.

As more states look to further develop or refine their online report cards, the REL Northeast & Islands Region offers many examples of user-friendly and data-rich approaches. Now that the technical challenges of developing these report cards have been met, the ongoing challenges of accessing and using the data to inform critical decisions that affect the lives of students remain.

New Online Report Cards in the Northeast & Islands Region

State1 Year Released Indicator Categories
Connecticut 2015
  • Academic achievement and growth in English language arts, mathematics, and science
  • Chronic absenteeism
  • Preparation for college and career readiness, including the percentage of students taking advanced coursework and passing related exams
  • On-track to high school graduation
  • High school graduation, including 4- and 6-year cohort rates
  • Postsecondary entrance
  • Physical fitness course participation
  • Arts access
Maine 2019
  • Academic achievement in mathematics and English language arts
  • Chronic absenteeism
  • Progress in English language proficiency
  • Academic progress in mathematics and English language arts
  • High school graduation rate
Massachusetts 2018
  • Academic achievement and growth in English language arts, mathematics, and science
  • Advanced coursework completion (such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate)
  • Chronic absenteeism
  • High school completion, including 4- and 5-year cohort rate and annual dropout rate
  • Progress towards English language proficiency
New Hampshire 2018
  • Academic achievement, including proficiency in English language arts, mathematics, and science
  • Academic growth in English language arts and mathematics
  • College and career readiness, including 4- and 5-year high school graduation rates; post-secondary enrollment rate; and annual high school dropout rate
  • Environment, including rates of disciplinary incidents and average class sizes
  • Finance, including cost per pupil, total expenditures, and total net revenues
  • Educator, including the percentage of classes taught by experienced (three or more years) and certified teachers
New York 2015 (prior to ESSA)
  • Academic achievement in English language arts and mathematics, and science (excluding high school)
  • Annual Regents Results (high school assessment)
  • Total Cohort Regents Results
  • English language proficiency
  • Alternate assessment results
Rhode Island 2018
  • Academic achievement and growth in English language arts and mathematics
  • English language proficiency
  • Graduation rate
  • Student and teacher absenteeism
  • Suspensions
Vermont 2019
  • Academic achievement in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies
  • English language proficiency
  • Personalization of learning
  • Rates of suspension and expulsion
  • Teacher credentials and professional development
  • Financial resources

1Note: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are territories in the REL Northeast & Islands Region, were not included in this table. The online report card for Puerto Rico was not available in English, and the authors were unable to locate an online report card from the Virgin Islands Department of Education.