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What Americans say about…

How do you assess school quality?

Nearly all teachers (94%) say the better way to assess a school’s quality is to look at the improvement its students show over time, rather than the percentage of students who pass a standardized state test at any given time. Majorities of parents and all adults agree — 77% and 75%, respectively.


The potential for large numbers of teachers to leave the profession poses a challenge to schools on a variety of fronts. One of those is how parents assess school quality — because more parents cite teachers and staff as the key ingredient than any other factor.

It would be nice to see where my son's school compares to other schools. But comparing schools is like comparing apples to oranges. Every school has its own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Albert, 49, Asian father of two in a California suburb

In an open-ended question, 24% of K-12 parents cite teachers and staff as the main factor in evaluating the quality of their child’s school, with all other responses in single digits. The answer holds across student grade levels. It peaks — at 31% — among Asian-American parents, a low-incidence population that was oversampled for this study.

Turning to student performance, a nearly unanimous 94% of teachers say the better way to assess a school’s quality is to look at the improvement its students show over time, rather than the percentage of students who pass a standardized state test at any given time. Broad, albeit less overwhelming, majorities of parents and all adults agree — 77% and 75%, respectively. (It was 81% and 80% of all adults when last asked in PDK polls in 2006 and 2008.)

2019 School Performance

There are some differences among groups, including on the basis of race and ethnicity. Focus on onetime test scores peaks among Latinx parents (38%) and Asian-American parents (32%). Those compare with 22% among Black parents and 16% among White parents. Regardless, majorities across the board say student improvement over time matters more.

There’s no clear single source of information parents rely on in assessing the quality of their child’s school. A plurality (39%) says they find their child’s report card most helpful for this purpose, but 23% rely more on state-issued report cards on the local schools, 21% on their child’s state standardized test scores, and 15% on evaluations from other parents.

I have seen those (state) report cards, but I don't pay much attention to them. I do not like or support standardized testing, and I don't believe test scores truly reflect how well a school is doing.

Robin, 49, White mother of one in urban Pennsylvania
2019 Parents Assess School Quality

Again, there’s a racial and ethnic difference, with reliance on state standardized tests to assess school quality lowest among White parents (14%), compared with 30% among non-White parents, including similar levels among Black, Latinx, and Asian-American parents.

There are gaps in awareness, use, and perceptions of state-issued school report cards. A broad 81% of teachers say their state issues school report cards; that falls sharply to 52% of parents and 39% of all adults. Instead, 43% of parents and 56% of the general public simply don’t know whether their state issues these reports. Parents who rate their child’s school negatively (with a C, D, or Fail grade) are least likely to be aware of whether state-issued school report cards are available.

Among those who say their state has issued a report card for their local schools, majorities of teachers and parents alike say they have read it — 73% and 66%, respectively, vs. 51% of all adults. Most parents and teachers say they did so within the past year, and, across groups, 7 in 10 or more say the school report cards were easy to find and easy to understand.

Majorities who read the state-issued school report cards also found them helpful, albeit with a large difference between teachers — 62% found them helpful — and parents (82%) and the general public (77%).

A day in the life of the school is a better assessment. Walk into a classroom, view the learning, view the attention, view the teaching skills, then ask questions of the learners about what they like and dislike, ask from the bottom of the faculty all the way up to the top their likes and dislikes of the school.

Zach, 24, White high school teacher in suburban Pennsylvania

As noted, teachers overall divide evenly on whether state-issued school report cards do or do not accurately represent school quality — 50% vs. 48%. The general public similarly divides — 46% vs. 52% — while parents see the state report cards much more positively — 64% vs. 36%. Confidence peaks among Latinx parents (77%) vs. lows of 57% among Black parents and 59% among White parents.

Confidence grows, moreover, when looking just at those who report actually having read these report cards. Teachers in this group say by 62% vs. 37% that they accurately represent school quality, while teachers who have not read the report cards are divided, 47% vs. 52%. Parents who’ve read the report cards also respond more positively to them than those who have not, by 12 percentage points (82% vs. 70%); all adults, by 11 points (74% vs. 63%).

2019 Awareness State Report Cards

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