Learning the Power of Education Data

By Hannah Engle

When you hear the phrase “education data” you probably feel intimidated and overwhelmed—or you may not even have a clear idea of what it means or how it can be used.

You are not alone. While education data includes useful insights like demographics, test scores and teacher observations, this information is often presented to parents in confusing, disorganized spreadsheets or hard-to-navigate websites. It’s no wonder parents find data scary; but they still know it’s important.

What We Know

Parents value and rely on education data to support their child’s learning. Of the parents who completed a recent online survey by the Data Quality Control:

  • 88% say they personally rely on tangible data about their child (i.e., test scores, grades) to get a full picture of how their child is performing, to support him or her as much as possible at home.
  • 90% of parents say that the overall performance of a school, like an A–F letter grade system, has some influence on their decision-making about their child’s education.
  • 94% want their child’s teacher to use data related to the child’s progress in school, such as attendance, grades and test scores, to help personalize their learning experience.

Education Data is More than Your Child’s Report Card

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) now requires each school, school district and state to publish report cards every year. These state and school district report cards must include important information about a school’s environment and teacher qualifications, in addition to student performance, demographic information and other important statistics. This information is required to be clearly presented in a way in which can be easily understood.

This invaluable information gives parents deep insights into the education practices and learning environments that go far beyond test scores. You’ll be able to understand where your child’s school is excelling, and where they are facing challenges. Armed with this information, you can effectively advocate for your child and their school with solid data to support your efforts.

Finding Education Data

So, you may be wondering—this sounds great, but where do I begin?

Usually, your state education agency website will house the state report card as well as report cards for each school district and each individual school in your state. It is important to note that each state may have a different way of presenting the information. If you can’t find the report card online, try calling your school or school district office to request a printed copy.

Interpreting the Data You Find

Once you have found the report card, you will still have to make sense of all the numbers and information presented—and figure out how it pertains to your child and school community. To be an effective advocate for your child, you must be able to understand this data, so be sure to take the time to understand each report card.

Many report cards have definitions or a section with definitions that provides more information and interpretation of terms and phrases. If necessary, consider asking a fellow parent or teacher to help you decipher the data, or request that school leaders provide trainings or workshops to help parents better understand report card data.

Turning Information into Improvements

Now that you have looked over the numbers and data, and you understand its significance, it’s time to take action! Maybe after looking into the data you discover that your child’s school is located near an unsafe park or other environment, or you find that your child’s school has an extremely low graduation rate. Whatever concerns you discover by looking at the report card(s), it is critical that you use it to advocate for improving the learning environments for your child.

If the issue is at the school level, consider inviting your school principal to your next PTA meeting to discuss your concerns, using the report card findings to support any suggestions or issues you want to address. This way, you can have a conversation about what is positive about your child’s school and where there is room for improvement.

If you notice a problem on the district level, attend and ask to speak at the next school board meeting (ahead of time) regarding issues you have with the report card. Ask the school board what steps can be taken to improve the situation.

If you find something of concern on the state level, develop a relationship with the staff in your state’s education agency so you can work together to address any problems. Search out more information specific to the issue so you can become a trusted partner and resource. Consider reaching out to your state PTA to see if they’ve done any advocacy work around the issue.

Data can be a powerful catalyst for change. The information is out there, and by taking these steps, you will be on your way to successfully advocating for better outcomes for your child and your child’s school.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) report cards give you information about the entire learning environment, including information on:

  • School progress
  • Academic achievement
  • School environment
  • Teacher qualifications
  • Per-student spending
  • Demographics
  • Graduation rates
  • Attendance rates

Hannah Engle is the Advocacy Strategist for National PTA where she leads the new Parents and the Power of Education Data project.

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