New Illinois school report cards will be shorter, simpler

Manuel Rapada

Illinois parents will receive simpler, more colorful school report cards explaining the demographics, activities and academic performance of public schools statewide beginning in 2013.

Last month Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law that created new requirements to compress the 10-page-plus report cards, which provide information about school performance, into a two-sided, multicolored pamphlet.

The new reports will include sections listing school awards, extracurricular activities and the availability of Advanced Placement courses, or what some have called “bragging points.”

Corky Siegfriedt, a member of the District 202 Parent Teacher Student Association’s Improvement Team, said the new reports will be more effective.

“Two pages versus 12 – you’re more likely to get people to pay attention,” Siegfriedt said.

Quinn’s Illinois P-20 council, which works with school officials and education groups to identify necessary school reforms, first made recommendations to improve the reports in January 2011.

To whittle down the longer report cards to one sheet, P-20’s Family, Youth and Community Engagement Committee worked with Boston Consulting Group to conduct focus groups around Illinois last fall to identify essential information for the cards.

Patti Montgomery, co-president of the PTA for Orrington Elementary School, said she uses the school report card to gather demographic information, tailoring programs to student needs. She said she likes the additional statistics of limited English proficiency, low-income students and students eligible for special education in the new report.

“All of these have an effect on the classroom,” Montgomery said.

However, not all parents were pleased with the changes. Amy Boyle, Lincoln Elementary School PTA co-president, said she finds the new top-of-the-page treatment for the demographic data “disappointing.”

“I question the prominence of student demographics when I’m more interested in seeing the readiness and success measures,” Boyle said.

The back page outlines school performance in three areas – outcomes, progress and environment – through indicators such as high school graduation rates and teacher and principal turnover. Performance is also compared to similar schools and state averages alongside a five-year-trend bar graph.

“This is giving visibility for parents on metrics that they would have a harder time figuring out on their own,” Boyle said.

The new reports will not analyze standardized test scores on gender and ethnicity. Siegfriedt said she would want data on teachers’ education level returned to the card. Quinn’s office had indicated the legislation was meant to increase school accountability.

“Every child in Illinois deserves access to a good, well-rounded education, and we want every parent to know how their child’s school is performing,” Quinn said in a news release issued Jan. 24.

Although Montgomery said she could find all the report’s statistics on the Internet, she said it would be nice “to have it all in one place” and added parents don’t have enough time to seek out all the desired information.

D202 is mailing fewer papers to parents unless the district feels the information is important to everyone, Siegfriedt said. One of the advantages of a two-sided pamphlet, she said, is it could be sent with other papers in a single mailing.

Though Montgomery would not suggest having the reports mailed to parents, she said she is aware not all families can access reports electronically.

“You can get (Internet) from the public library, but if you can’t get to the public library, you’re not going to be able to see this stuff,” Montgomery said. “That is a problem, but I don’t know what the solution is.”

Even with the addition of new sections and a shorter format, Siegfriedt said the report cards still do not provide the complete picture of each school.

“Every school is more complex than you can put in 12 pages or two pages,” she said.

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