In order to learn more about the Mississippi Education Scorecards, that were released last week by The Center for Education Innovation, MSF talked with Babak Mostaghimi, Director of Community, Family, and School Engagement at The Center for Education Innovation, to learn more about what the Mississippi Education Scorecards are, how the project came to be, and why the scorecards are such an important tool for parents, teachers, school administrators, and community members. In order to see Babak’s answer to each question simply click on the question link and you will be directed to his answer. The Mississippi Education Scorecards can be viewed online by clicking here.
Q: What are the Education Scorecards?
Babak: The Education Scorecards are a community engagement initiative at the Center for Education Innovation that takes already public data from many spreadsheets, multiple online sources, and existing accountability reports from the Mississippi Department of Education and local school districts and puts them into a one-page, color-coded, people-friendly document that parents, community members, and school personnel can easily understand. The Scorecards do NOT advocate for any particular reform, change, or stance but simply lay out data in an easy to read manner so that parents, families, schools, and communities can make informed decisions to support their children.
Q: Why did you want to create the Scorecards?
Babak: We created the Education Scorecards to improve academic outcomes for children across Mississippi. The key to making good choices and improving schools is to know where we are and our history of academic performance so that we know the starting point for moving to success. If parents, businesses, and communities want to know how to help, they need to know where the challenges are. If school districts want to reach out to other districts to share and learn best practices, they need to be able to see how other districts are doing in specific areas. While you could find all this data before, the Education Scorecards made it easier to access and understand so that everyone can focus on student success.
Q: How was the data collected?
Babak: Collecting the Scorecard data confirmed what we expected: finding and understanding accountability data is challenging! Our team navigated numerous data sources from the Mississippi Department of Education, downloaded multiple spreadsheets of historic data, examined PDFs of current mandated report cards, translated old school/district accountability ratings into the new A-F accountability model based on the published guidelines, and even contacted school districts directly to obtain the latest school board and superintendent information. Through hundreds of hours of work, a comprehensive Education Scorecard system emerged with 5 years of background data in addition to current numbers for every district in Mississippi.
SPECIAL NOTE: It is important to note that the Center for Education Innovation did NOT create any new data, we simply presented the official, publicly available data in a new format for people to see and understand. Despite myths circulating to the contrary, even the A-F rating is given by the Mississippi Department of Education NOT by some arbitrary analysis at the Center.
Q: How are the Education Scorecards different or better than the Children First report cards mandated by the legislature and found by clicking here. (Note: In order to view click on the Children First tab—The link will only work properly in Internet Explorer).
Babak: The Children First Annual Reports were a great first step by the legislature, but during our pilot activities, many people expressed the need for changes to make the data more usable, especially for families and community members. The Education Scorecards make the accountability data more understandable and accessible to everyone.
- Education Scorecards show historic data and trends: Snapshots of performance are great, but the real value in key areas is to look at trends in a district. The Education Scorecards provide trend data around enrollment, school grades, and ACT scores, which were all areas identified by pilot participants as areas where they wanted to know more about the direction in which their districts were heading. Without trend data, interested parties were unable to quickly tell if things were getting better or worse, and thus, whether or not a specific intervention or help was needed. In one instance, for example, a parent asserted that her local school district each year would tell parents how they have a plan in place for improving things from the year prior and how they had it under control. Each year, however, the scores would come back at the same level or worse than the year prior, but because she could not show others the downward trend, it was hard for her to get people to support making real deep changes in support of students. She was pleased to find nearly 5 years of data for the key metrics, which she could then use to advocate for bigger changes in support of her children. [On a separate note, it was interesting that pilot participants were less worried about trend data on state tests because they felt that state test proficiency requirements changed frequently enough to make them a less reliable year-to-year metric.]
- Education Scorecards include annual Mississippi testing data: While parents, community members, and schools did not particularly care about trend data on Mississippi specific tests like the MCT2 and SATP tests, they did want to know how their children and schools measured up on any particular year. As a result, the Scorecards show both the MCT2 data, which will be especially important with the enactment of the third grade gate bill, and the SATP data which is an indicator of a high school student’s ability to graduate.
- Education Scorecards are visually appealing and cut to the chase: Another critique of existing data sources was the challenge among individuals, especially those with low levels of formal education, to navigate the data and understand what it all means. To counteract this challenge, the Education Scorecards are built in a color-coded system like a traffic light where certain colors like green are good while red is bad. We found in our pilot that people across the spectrum picked up on this feature rather quickly and appreciated the quick definition of the state testing designation of minimal, basic, proficient, and advanced. The color coding literally allowed parents to glance at the Scorecard and instantly know how things were going, even before digging deeper into the specific numbers. Furthermore, the Education Scorecards feature key information more prominently, so that those with the ability to only glance at the Education Scorecards for a moment can glean key info, such as graduation rates and ACT trends, almost instantaneously. Furthermore, the Scorecards cut through the noise of excess information by honing in on specific metrics that are important to communities, families, and schools. In all our pilot activities, parents never asked about the racial makeup of their schools, the average daily attendance, the various staffing percentages (except for Certified Teachers and National Board Certification), or the financial analysis that breaks up school expenditures into hard- to-distinguish categories. Are those things important? Absolutely, but mainly to a person that understands the education budgeting system and deep policy work. As a result, people reported that they would get lost in the details of other reporting mechanisms and were not able to come out with a basic understanding of what was important to them. For example, in the financial arena, families cared most about how much was being spent per child and how that compared to the rest of the state. In terms of graduation rate, communities simply wanted to know the 4-year graduation rate.
- Education Scorecards provide more updated data: A key challenge in education is having updated data that can inform decisions. All stakeholders expressed that it was hard to make decisions or changes in schools when the data being seen was from sometimes 2- to-3 years ago. For example, the current Children First Annual Reports give the 2011-2012 data in many instances where 2012-2013 data is readily available. While the Scorecards were not able to fix that in all data areas due to the availability of data, they generally provide data from the prior academic year as opposed to data from sometimes two years prior.
At the end of the day, the Education Scorecards will give you clear, updated, trend data and are meant to be multi-level user friendly. The Children First Annual Reports, on the other hand, are a great source for policy makers and people looking to go deeper into snapshot data. Both are excellent sources of information for Mississippi.
Q: Was there anything interesting that you discovered from the data once it was collected and presented?
Babak: Through our hundreds of hours of pre- and post-work, two major things stuck out. First, we found that a school district’s ACT scores were not as strongly correlated to the Mississippi Accountability Ratings as we expected. Across the state, most school districts have maintained essentially the same all-student composite ACT scores over the last 5+ years. The numbers have gone marginally up and down but have stayed essentially constant. Meanwhile, school district and school ratings based on the Mississippi Accountability Ratings have significantly fluctuated within schools and districts. This finding seems to corroborate the concern found among community members during the pilot stages that despite changes in their school accountability ratings, they were seeing little change in the outcomes of graduates of their schools. Communities want to see school indicators that show life success, which is leading us to look at the availability of data sources to make tweaks to the Scorecards in the next go around to including college/university, military, and technical school matriculation rates as well as employment post-high school graduation. This last piece is much more complex, however, so any recommendations from readers on data sources would be very useful.
Second, we found that there is an overwhelmingly large group of people in Mississippi that truly care about improving their schools but we’re waiting on some sort of a way to get involved and these Scorecards are now providing that way. Whether the schools have an A or F rating from the Mississippi Department of Education, parents, community members, and school officials have in large part looked at the Education Scorecards through the lens of how they can get involved and help children do even better. Despite countless articles to the contrary, people genuinely want to help their children succeed and we are hoping that the Education Scorecards will help people figure out how they can do their part.
Q: How should communities, parents, school districts use this information?
Babak: The Education Scorecards do not advocate for any particular policies or solutions, but we hope that communities and parents use the data to get involved in their schools and with their children to help their children achieve success. We hope that school districts will embrace the Education Scorecards as a tool to use to improve outcomes for all children. More specifically, we hope the Scorecards will help focus communities and schools on data that shows college and career readiness, which directly correlate with better life outcomes for children.
Q: Where can the Scorecards be accessed?
Babak: The Center for Education Innovation has partnered with many school districts and organizations, such as Parents for Public Schools, to distribute the Education Scorecards across the state. Many districts, such as Ocean Springs and Tupelo, are taking it upon themselves to spread word of the Scorecards throughout their communities, and we hope that more districts follow suit. In addition, upon request we have made paper copies of the Scorecards available to P-16 Community Engagement Councils in school districts across Mississippi. If you have access to the Internet, the best thing to do is visit http://mscei.com/community-engagement/education-scorecards/.