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Data: A Parent’s Friend

July 1, 2016 4 minute Read by William McKenzie
Despite complaints about testing in schools, information from reliable, independent exams can be a boon for parents.

Recently, I wrote this column for the Dallas Morning News about how data on a school’s performance can help parents. We hear plenty of complaints about testing in schools, so it is easy to forget that information from reliable, independent exams can be a boon for parents.

The Morning News essay spotlighted examples from how data is being used in the Dallas and Plano school districts to help parents grasp the academic progress of their child's school.

Let me throw in a couple more examples. They speak to the way data can inform parents -- and how parents can use data to spur action.

My son attends a school for students with learning differences. At the end of each school year, administrators review data from standardized tests to show academic trend lines.

Parents get individual results for their child as well as for his or her grade as a whole. And the school compares the data for students in a particular grade from the work in that grade the previous year.

During an hour-plus session, the school’s leaders walk parents thru the information. At the end of the meeting, administrators meet individually or in small groups with parents.

This year, I was particularly struck by how one administrator made a point of noting that average scores had actually gone down year over year in one subject for one grade. The school didn't hide the bad data, which I have seen schools try to do.

By the end of each data session, you get a sense of the trajectory of your child and his or her grade. There may be no easy way to bolster those trend lines, including the good ones. But at least we as parents have a sense of how things stand academically.

Parents in Los Angeles have taken data further to push to transform their children's campuses. Through organizations like Parent Revolution http://parentrevolution.org/, they have taken advantage of a California law that gives parents the power to trigger a change in a low-performing school.

The effort has led to schools being revamped through several means. Parents and the Los Angeles Unified School District may work on a new model for a struggling campus. A charter operator may take over an under-performing school. Or, in one case, the LA district and a charter operator co-manage a challenged school.

However the transformation occurs, the goal is to improve the academic performance of a school. But none of that could be done if parents didn’t have good, solid data that showed their child’s school needed serious improvement.

Texas legislators, unfortunately, killed a bill in last year's session to give Texas parents this same power. Perhaps next year.

Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that data from classroom performance are a parent’s friend. The information informs, empowers, and, in some cases, leads to action.


Author

William McKenzie
William McKenzie

William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.

Active in education issues, he co-teaches an education policy class at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. He also participates in the Bush Institute’s school accountability project.

Before joining the Bush Institute, the Fort Worth native served 22 years as an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News and led the newspaper’s Texas Faith blog. The University of Texas graduate’s columns appeared nationwide and he has won a Pulitzer Prize and commentary awards from the Education Writers Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Texas Headliners Foundation, among other organizations. He still contributes columns and essays for the Morning News and The Weekly Standard.

Before joining the News in 1991, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and spent a dozen years in Washington, D.C. During that time, he edited the Ripon Forum.

McKenzie has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, on the board of a homeless organization, and on governing committees of a Dallas public school. He also is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and their twin children.

Full Bio

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