Susan Pendergrass

I’m a researcher. When it comes to data I like digging in, and I like unpacking. So, when I heard that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) was releasing the latest year of test scores, I was super excited. But even more exciting was that DESE had redesigned how the data would be presented to parents. This was something I’ve complained about a ton and it was finally getting fixed! But like the kid who’s hoping for a pony on Christmas morning, I should have known better.

The data are fine and I have a bunch of enormous new spreadsheets to start analyzing. The presentation of the data, on the other hand, was the big letdown.

For example, if you were to look at the new report card for a school or district, you would see the following types of graphs:

School report card example

The Commissioner of Education said that she hopes people use these graphs to ask questions. Well I certainly have a few. I would like to know—are students getting a year’s worth of growth in a year? This particular district is “On Track,” others are “Floor,” and the rest are “Exceeding.” I’m guessing that “Floor” is below average growth of all schools in the state, “On Track” is average growth, and “Exceeding” is above average growth. Why not just say that? Why use words like “Floor” when what you mean is below average?

Here’s another question that most folks are interested in—what percentage of students can read (called English language arts, or ELA, here) or do math on grade level? The set of colored bars that would seemingly reveal this information say 331.9 for ELA and 324.4 for math. What does that mean? The words that go with these bars are “Floor,” “Approaching,” “On Track,” and “Target.” Is “Target” the same as “Exceeding”? Why don’t these reports just show the percentage of students who scored Proficient or above?

Finally, is the district’s performance getting better or worse? This district scored -1.9 in ELA and -1.1 in math. I’m guessing that not’s good, since they’re on the orange side, but what do those numbers actually mean?

Collecting and reporting data is one of DESE’s main jobs. They’re supposed to have gotten parent input in designing school and district report cards that are parent friendly. These are not even research friendly. Why do states like Delaware, Illinois, and Michigan have terrific school and district report cards while we have these? When will DESE step up? 


About the Author

Susan Pendergrass
Director of Research and Education Policy

Susan Pendergrass was Vice President of Research and Evaluation for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools before joining the Show-Me Institute. Prior to coming to the National Alliance, Susan was a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education during the Bush administration and a senior research scientist at the National Center for Education Statistics during the Obama administration. She earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University.