On Tuesday morning, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law legislation designed to give parents and communities access to user-friendly reports about public schools and districts performance statewide. The reporting requirements are part of House Bill 605, which was passed unanimously by the General Assembly last year.
New school report cards are expected to be available starting in the 2013-2014 school year for all public elementary, middle and high schools. The report cards will narrow down the current and sometimes 15-pages-plus reports into two pages with colorful graphics.
Robin Steans is the executive director of Advance Illinois - an independent statewide education policy and advocacy organization that took part in revising school report cards.
"Even people who are paid to look through these report cards and be up to date on information find it tough to slog through. So the idea of getting this better information out in a way that any parent can look at, understand, make sense of and do something about is just a huge gift to the state," Steans said at the bill signing's press conference.
The new report cards will include school characteristics and student demographics; curriculum information including availablity of advanced placement (AP) classes and foreign language classes; and student outcomes with student growth measures. The reports will also track something called "school environment" which includes metrics like teacher and principal retention and percentage of students and teachers with fewer than 10 absences.
This report card largely pulls together information schools are already required to submit, but also gives school principals the opportunity to enter additional information about the school - including what awards a school has won and what kinds of after school programs it has. There will also be a new survey component for students and parents about a school's learning environment.
The Illinois State Board of Education will be responsible for collecting and compiling the data and entering it into the new format. Local districts will also have to gather and report some additional information, but Steans said districts must report on this information regardless. Steans called the report card a "budget neutral" change - meaning it should not cost the cash-strapped state any additional money to provide these reports.
As to why it's taken so long to institute this meaningful advance in reporting, Max McGee who co-chairs the P-20 Council's Committee on Data and Assessment, called it an issue of "benign neglect." McGee said he began working on this issue 12 years ago when he was the State Superintendent of Education, but met a lot of opposition at the time. He said since then, the climate of schools has become more service-oriented and the value of that data has increased.
McGee and Steans pointed to deep collaboration across a variety of organizations that made this legistlation and report design possible, including guidance by the Boston Consulting Group.
Though the new report cards will allow for oranges-to-oranges comparisons across Illinois schools, it won't necessarily allow for school and district comparisons between states, although Steans said some information in the revamped reports is collected the same way in other states. Steans added that there's no reason why there can't be more states with similar sets of metrics and it would be logical to think about that on a national level.
A spokeswoman for Advance Illinois said private schools in Illinois are not obligated by the new law to provide parents and community members the same reports.