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Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

This is the time of year when students have brought home their final report cards from school so parents can clearly evaluate how they performed. For Missouri residents wanting to see how well their schools are performing, good luck. The state has made data about schools hard to find and even harder to understand.

The Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working toward better quality and accessibility of data in education, has studied school report cards nationally. The best ones offer meaningful information that allows stakeholders to understand how schools are serving their students. That’s not happening in Missouri. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education needs to overhaul the way it shares information with the public.

The Data Quality Campaign suggests searching for information about large districts in the state by typing in “school report card” and our state in a Google search. The landing page that comes up is DESE’s Comprehensive Data System. It provides a snapshot of how the state’s students fared on third grade language arts tests — where only 48% were proficient. On seventh grade math tests, 62% failed to meet the proficiency standard. No other grade level or subject is shared on this page.

Under a crucial heading, “School Performance and Accountability,” the DESE site tells users: No graphic representations are available for school performance and accountability. Anyone trying to find this information about the state, a school district or a particular school must search for and download individual data tables that are difficult to find and comprehend. A researcher with the Data Quality Campaign agreed that Missouri’s site leaves much to be desired.

In its annual review of states, the campaign points out that progress is possible. For example, Mississippi launched a new design — completed in-house and in four months — that is easier to navigate, more comprehensive than before and includes simple visuals that help put the data in context.

The campaign praises it for putting technical education jargon into understandable English. It presents a snapshot of key data points, such as aggregate test scores and graduation rates, upfront while also making report card data easily downloadable for those who want to dig deeper.

Another key feature that several states have incorporated in their school report cards are cumulative summary grades or numerical scores of how well each school is performing in different categories. A letter grade or percentage intuitively makes sense to parents. It’s how schools assess students, and the public should hold schools to similar standards.

It’s impossible for residents to judge or compare schools if the data is hidden and hard to understand. When they can’t easily access it or understand it, the state’s education department is failing them.