More than 1.2 million annual report cards being sent to Virginia parents about their children's schools this month will say nothing about student safety or teacher qualifications because state officials were not satisfied with the way the information was reported last year.
Some parents and educators complained that the information was inconsistent and vague, so the state Board of Education ordered changes in the reporting system in late spring. That left too little time to collect new data for this fall's report cards, officials said, so they decided to leave off the information until next year.
Virginia is one of 36 states that require annual report cards for each school and one of 13 states that require the information to be sent to the home of each child. Virginia's cards tell parents and students how their school's passing rate on state tests compares with state and school district averages and what percentage of high school students are taking advanced courses.
Last school year, the cards also listed the number of student assaults and incidents of drug and weapons possession at the school. And they reported what percentage of the school's teachers had a valid license in the subject they had been assigned to teach.
But some educators complained that the safety information was unreliable because some schools were more aggressive than others in reporting violent incidents. Also, most schools reported that nearly all their teachers had the proper credentials, although some parents said they knew of teachers who were teaching subjects for which they were not trained.
"We want to be more definite in what we are asking for," said Cameron Harris, assistant superintendent for assessment and reporting.
Use of such report cards has increased nationwide, but school officials have struggled to collect information and present it in an understandable way.
"We think people need to have the right indicators, but we are pretty sure we don't have them yet," said Andy Plattner, chairman of the Arlington-based firm A-Plus Communications, which advises schools on report cards and other matters. "If a student shoves another, does that mean the school is unsafe? If the number of students suspended or expelled goes up, does that mean the school is safer or less safe?"
Virginia officials said they were reluctant to delay this year's cards in order to collect more information, because they had promised to send them out this fall.
Last month, the state Department of Education sent a memo to school districts explaining what kinds of threats to student safety should be reported, but several districts complained that the state was asking them to report even the most minor infractions. Department spokeswoman Cynthia A. Cave said the state will send out another memo soon to clarify the guidelines.
Serious assaults will be reported as before, she said, and "information on fighting and bullying, because parents have requested that."
Harris said school officials will be asked to indicate the percentage of instructors who spend a substantial part of the day dealing with subjects not covered by their licenses.