What makes a great school? In the past, whenever I have encountered this question or it’s many variations from parents of school-aged children, I’ve always directed these parents to the accountability information available on our state’s Report Card. I’ve explained that annual academic accountability information provides a snapshot of how well schools and districts are serving the students they enroll, and that this information allows the public an opportunity to see how students across the state are performing on statewide assessments.

This year, I’ll have to lead these conversations with a caveat.

School closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will likely mean that academic accountability information will not be available for the 2019-20 school year. This is unfortunate in many regards, but particularly because school accountability information is such a valuable resource for parents. I personally have looked to school accountability information when making critical decisions that will impact my family, and I know many of my friends, family members, and acquaintances have relied on this information as well. A year of missing data would have made any of our decision-making processes much more difficult.

Parents across our state rely on school accountability information when considering things like what cities or neighborhoods they should move into, which specialized programs in their surrounding schools would best serve their children, and whether their child’s current school continues to be the best option. A year of incomplete accountability data creates an incomplete picture for those parents to work from. When data are missing, parents cannot see the full breath of student growth from year to year or the results of targeted programs schools have used to improve student outcomes. They are not able to see whether practices schools are using to support particular subgroups of students are successful, nor are they able to see whether resources that districts have dedicated to specific strategies are paying off. This is extremely disappointing, and we must work to ensure that disruptions in the accountability data collected in the future are limited.  

In years to come, we must ensure that data are counted, recorded, and shared. This means that students are assessed annually using our statewide assessment, schools and districts are assigned performance ratings using student assessment results, and this information is shared in a clear and transparent manner.

This information brings immense benefits to parents who are looking to know how well schools and districts are serving students, and we must guarantee that these benefits remain available. So, when we rise from the aftermath of this uniquely challenging moment and have the opportunity to return to a sense of normalcy, we must pick up where we left off so that parents have the resources and information needed to make the best decisions for their children.

Shaundraya Hersey is advocacy manager at SCORE.