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School Ratings: Reading a School's Report Card

Jordan Catapano

Students typically receive their official report cards at the end of quarters and semesters. These report cards deliver to parents an official notification of their child’s specific academic performance in each curriculum area, as well as other valuable metrics like GPA, class rank, effort indicators, and your qualitative feedback.

Students are not the only ones who get report cards, though. Schools get their own report cards too—did you know that? Do you know what information is in it and how to read it? Do you know your school ratings? Here are a few notes to help you out:

What is a School Report Card?

Unlike the student variant, a school report card is issued annually and is created by the state. As you can imagine, there are a few layout and content differences depending on your state, but the bulk of the information is the same.

Taxpayers hold public school districts accountable for the school’s effectiveness. As such, this report card (and subsequent school ratings) exist to measure accountability and to help draw comparisons between other schools. As a further measure of liability, states will publish these reports so that each school’s quality is publically visible. The hope here is that parents and community members compare data, ask questions, and generally work off of the same information to ensure their child’s school provides the highest quality education possible.

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What’s Contained in a School Report Card

As aforementioned, there is variance by state, but here’s what you can generally expect to find on a school report card:

Standardized test scores. Results from each state’s achievement exam will likely be published. Total scores are reported per age group, but additional content like how each ethnicity, socio-economic statuses, and students with disabilities scored in each exam subset will generally be included as well.

Demographic information. Total numbers and percentages for various student categories will be included (i.e. ethnicity, socio-economic status, etc.)

Ratios, Percentages, and Stats. Statistics are provided to get a scope of the instructional setting. Student-to-teacher ratios and the number of educators with master’s degrees are commonly reported, while some also include the average teacher experience. In regard to students, rates for population and attendance, graduation, truancy, and a percentage of students with IEPs are addressed.

Comparatives/School Ratings. To make comparisons between schools, districts, and states easier to digest, this information is most often represented via bar graphs.

Financial Information. As public institutions, schools must openly display their financials. The average teacher and administrator salaries are published, as well as how many dollars are spent per student yearly, what the total revenues and expenditures were, taxation information, and so on.

Status Report. Overall, each school is rated with a status report. Sometimes this is in relation to federal programs such as No Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress, but in most other instances, states simply assign grades to schools.

Improvement Plan. Typically each report card will include notes regarding its next steps (provided by each school). It acknowledges various shortcomings and charts its theoretical trajectory for the upcoming yea

What You Can Get Out of It

As an English teacher, I get a little bored plodding through numbers, charts, and graphs, but there is valuable information here that I’ve come to appreciate over the years.

First, this is the best snapshot of the status of your school. The view from our classroom is often narrow, and a school report card helps us see our building from a bird’s-eye view. At the very least, this gives you an increased understanding and appreciation for what’s going at your school.

This broader scope can also help you better interact with students and parents. Is a student struggling just in your class, or is their struggle part of a trend at your school? What are the realistic expected outcomes for students at your school based on history and population?

You can also identify strengths and weaknesses within your school. If certain students seem to be performing poorly on their assessments, you may be able to contribute to a solution. Or if your school performs comparatively weak versus others in your district, you may be able to conduct some research to pinpoint any key differences.

Hopefully you’ll be able to take the time this year to examine your school report card and enjoy this overall glimpse of your school’s progress!

What do you find valuable from your school’s report card? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website