New school report card in the works

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When the House and Senate reconvene this week, one item on their agenda will be a proposal from the Illinois P-20 Council for a more informative and understandable School Report Card. HB 605, currently a shell bill, is already on second reading in the House and ready to be amended. Last week, Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia filed HAM 1, which would revise the Report Card by statute. The bill would require ISBE to prepare the new report card for every district and school by October 31 of 2013.

The new cards would include detailed demographic data on students in addition to the gender, race and subgroup information now required. More curriculum data – such as the percentage of students in Advanced Placement courses or career/technical education—the percentage of students graduating “career ready” and a host of other data bits not currently reported will be required.

Adding the additional data might make you think the new cards will be cluttered, but a P-20 Council Fact Sheet and a draft “sample” report card (both provided by Advance Illinois) show that the final product is one most citizens will understand.

In fact, the P-20 Council has tested its proposal toward that end. Its project included asking stakeholders in focus groups across Illinois for their input. A survey of participants suggested 90 percent find the reports “easy to understand” and expect to use the cards.

“One of the most heartening aspects of the new report card redesign is the level of input from parents and community members,” says Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, a group that is represented on the council.

The council held roughly 60 focus groups to determine what parents, educators, and civic leaders most wanted to know.  “We’ve never seen this level of discussion or engagement, and the report card is dramatically better as a result,” Steans says.

Since HB 605 has already been through the House education committee, it can be amended on the floor of the chamber and passed quickly after the veto session begins on Tuesday.

That would give the Senate sufficient time to post it for a committee hearing, then floor debate, and then take a final-action vote by November 10, the final day of the 2011 fall veto session.

Considering the wide range of groups the council assembled for the project–school management groups, teachers unions, business interests, school “reform” advocates, parents and children’s advocacy organizations– it appears likely that the bill should move unhindered through the often precarious legislative process.

Jim Broadway is founder and publisher of State School News Service.