The scorecards represent the school system’s attempt to expand transparency in an increasingly competitive education marketplace. A steadily growing charter school sector now serves more than 40 percent of the city’s public students. Officials expressed the hope that the deeper statistical profiles will compel parents to take a more holistic view of schools they might otherwise overlook.
“We wanted to make sure our families have the information they need to make informed decisions,” Chancellor Kaya Henderson told reporters during a conference call. “These scorecards are going to give families an unprecedented look at what’s going on in our schools.”
Henderson said that although some D.C. schools, such as Banneker High School and Deal Middle School, are well-known for their quality, the scorecards will help introduce families to what she called some of the lesser-known “gems” in the system.
Among them, Powell Elementary in Northwest, she said. Although its overall math and reading scores remain mediocre, rates of growth in median scores show that the school has been successful at helping children below grade level catch up relatively quickly.
Some of the data are organized to paint the rosiest picture. Ballou High School in Southeast, for example, shows a 2011 graduation rate of 76 percent, slightly higher than the citywide average of 73 percent. But the District continues to calculate graduation rates using a formula that the federal government says is not sufficiently rigorous. Using the “adjusted cohort” measure, a 2008 Education Week study placed the citywide rate at 43 percent. The District is scheduled to switch to the cohort method later this year.
The city’s treatment of suspension and expulsion data is also likely to raise questions. It counts only those students who were expelled or suspended for a minimum of 11 days — an unusually long time and perhaps less revealing than a tally of shorter suspensions. The metric also does not include in-school suspensions.
Some of the information on the scorecards has been available, although not always readily so, on other government databases. The new profiles, which went online Tuesday afternoon and were sent home on paper with students, are part of an informational windfall for D.C. families.
Last month, D.C. charter schools introduced annual performance reports that cover some of the same ground. The D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees the 98 charter campuses, ranked them in overall quality across three tiers. The District did not rank the 119 traditional public schools it profiled, although Henderson did not rule out such a format down the road.
“This is brand-new for the public school system,” Henderson said, “and we have to make sure our community members and schools are comfortable with understanding and digesting this information.”