Do school reports matter?
December 7, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN As area school districts send out multiple reports on everything from students’ performance on standardized tests to information about teacher absenteeism, some local educators are wondering if the reports are valuable or justifiable.Representatives of both the Aspen and Roaring Fork school districts said recently that, given the amount of staff time and resources that go into gathering data for state-mandated reports, the bang might not be worth the buck.But the Colorado Department of Education commissioner, Dr. William Moloney, said he believes the School Accountability Reports (SARs) and other reporting requirements, are an appropriate way of gauging a school’s performance, and are not about to be dropped.”The School Accountability Reports are not going to go away any time soon,” Moloney predicted.”It’s purpose was to empower parents … to report to parents on the state of their school,” Moloney said of the SAR program. The SAR program was inaugurated by Gov. Bill Owens during his first term in office in the late 1990s, but grew out of a school reform act signed into law by former Gov. Roy Romer in 1993, Moloney said.”The report card concept is very deeply rooted in our national consciousness,” Moloney continued, explaining kids grow used to that type of monitoring, starting as soon as they get into school. He called it “a lay person’s tool,” but maintained the media, elected officials and certain politicians “make a big deal out of it.”And, he said, the governor has yet to be told by a constituent, “he was giving them too much information.””I don’t think anybody is afraid of accountability,” said Aspen schools Superintendent Diana Sirko, “and I don’t expect that to change.”But, she added, the accountability climate so far has been mainly “punitive” in nature, with the state’s education bureaucrats threatening to take away local control of schools not making the grade as set by the CDE.”It ought to be more constructive,” Sirko said of the accountability efforts, and she questioned whether the recently released School Accountability Reports meet that goal.The current SARs recently were released by the CDE covering all the districts in the state, and were to be sent by the districts to parents.”I don’t know if parents care how many days teachers miss,” said Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Judy Haptonstall, citing one of the details available in the SAR that goes to parents.And, she said, “It’s not useful to us in terms of what we do internally” to improve education.Neither district could provide exact numbers regarding the resources and payroll amounts that go into gathering the information for the reports, though both said it is an intensive data-gathering effort.Haptonstall estimated it costs “about $8,500 to do our annual report.”Sirko said the Aspen district probably spends less, perhaps $4,000 to $5,000, because Aspen is a smaller district with a smaller student/teacher population. Sirko also produced a dense packet of sheets bearing the different kinds of information the state requires from the district, and noted she has heard the SAR program costs as much as $5 million in state funds.Moloney, however, maintained the main cost the CDE pays for the SAR program is $300,000 in printing costs once all the data is compiled in a computer program and laid out for visual display. He conceded that the CSAP testing program, which is an important precursor to the SARs, costs “millions of dollars.”And taken all together, he admitted, “It is a lot of money.”But, he said eliminating the SARs would not be a wise political move, since it would prompt concerns among parents that “they’re not going to tell parents how the schools are doing.”Both Sirko and Haptonstall pointed out that the state demands three separate and very similar reports each school year, and that each report takes considerable time to put together.”They want that data [in the different reports], but with a little bit different spin on it,” Sirko explained.”This is kind of Governor Owens’ baby,” concluded Haptonstall, “so we could hope maybe the new governor comes to his senses” and eliminates the need for reports that in many ways are duplicates of each other.Sirko, who is one of eight superintendents around Colorado who serve on Governor-elect Bill Ritter’s education advisory committee, expects the subject to come up.”I think there’s a lot of hope from across the state [that reporting requirements will be lessened],” she said, noting the majority of school districts around the state have fewer than 300 students. For such small districts, she said, the reporting requirements are an even greater burden than for the larger districts.John Colson’s e-mail is email@example.com