Designing More Effective Accountability Report Cards
The purpose of this study was to identify and design standards and procedures for creating easily interpreted accountability reports cards, consistent with the requirements spelled out in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). The use of public report cards was first raised during the debate that took place immediately prior to the passage of the first precursor to NCLB, Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). Robert F. Kennedy, then junior Senator from New York, argued that issues of programmatic integrity, instructional coherence, school performance, learner progress, and educational accountability were too important to leave exclusively to "professional schoolmen." The first stage of the study began with a representative cross-section of parents, teachers, and school and district administrators being asked to critique current public report cards and identify design elements of an effective prototypical report card. The feedback produced during these exchanges, in conjunction with the use of a variety of empirical research findings on the design of easy-to-read / easy-to-interpret graphics-rich reports, was utilized to design a prototypical report card. Focus group participants partook in two additional cycles of critique and revision to identify effective design/data elements and to make improvements to the devised report. The resulting report card generated by this prototypical design and continuous improvement process is presented, and commented upon. These comments suggest that the art and craft of designing easily interpreted public report cards continues to be a major challenge.