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The (Mis)measure of Schools: How Data Affect Stakeholder Knowledge and Perceptions of Quality

by Jack Schneider, Rebecca Jacobsen, Rachel S. White & Hunter Gehlbach - 2018

Purpose/Objective: Under the reauthorized Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states and districts retain greater discretion over the measures included in school quality report cards. Moreover, ESSA now requires states to expand their measurement efforts to address factors like school climate. This shift toward more comprehensive measures of school quality provides an opportunity for states and districts to think intentionally about a basic question: What specific information should schools collect and report to their communities?

Setting: This study took place in the community surrounding a small, highly diverse urban school district.

Population/Participants: Forty-five local residents representing a range of demographic backgrounds participated in a modified deliberative poll with an experimental treatment.

Intervention/Program/Practice: We randomly assigned participants into two conditions. In the first, participants accessed the state web portal, which houses all publicly available educational data about districts in the state. In the second condition, participants accessed a customized portal that contained a wider array of school performance information collected by the research team.

Research Design: This mixed-methods study used a modified deliberative polling format, in conjunction with a randomized controlled field trial.

Data Collection and Analysis: Participants in both conditions completed a battery of survey items that were analyzed through multiple regressions.

Findings/Results: When users of a more holistic and comprehensive data system evaluated unfamiliar schools, they not only valued the information more highly but also expressed more confidence in the quality of the schools.

Conclusions/Recommendations: We doubt that more comprehensive information will inevitably lead to higher ratings of school quality. However, it appears—both from prior research, from theory, and from this project—that deeper familiarity with a school often fosters more positive perceptions. This may be because those unfamiliar with particular schools rely on a limited range of data, which fail to adequately capture the full range of performance variables, particularly in the case of urban schools. We encourage future exploration of this topic, which may have implications for school choice, parental engagement, and accountability policy.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 5, 2018, p. 1-40
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21842, Date Accessed: 9/25/2020 11:35:24 PM

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About the Author
  • Jack Schneider
    University of Massachusetts Lowell
    E-mail Author
    JACK SCHNEIDER is Assistant Professor of Leadership in Education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. His latest book is Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School Quality (Harvard University Press in 2017).
  • Rebecca Jacobsen
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    REBECCA JACOBSEN is an associate professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University and associate director of the Education Policy Center. Her research examines how policies shape both opportunities for and barriers to engagement with the public education system. She has written extensively about the politics of accountability policies and how performance reporting shapes public trust in and support for public education. Her research has been published in Public Opinion Quarterly, American Education Research Journal, American Journal of Education, and Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory.
  • Rachel White
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    RACHEL S. WHITE is a doctoral candidate at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on issues of power, politics, and democratic accountability in educational policy making, as well as on the degree to which stakeholder voices are incorporated in the crafting and implementation of policy. Her research has been published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis and Educational Policy Analysis Archives.
  • Hunter Gehlbach
    University of California at Santa Barbara
    E-mail Author
    HUNTER GEHLBACH is an associate professor at UC-Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education and the director of research at Panorama Education. An educational psychologist by training and a social psychologist at heart, his interests lie in improving the social side of schools, questionnaire design, and (recently) environmental education. His recent field experiment, “Creating Birds of Similar Feathers: Leveraging Similarity to Improve Teacher–Student Relationships and Academic Achievement,” was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology and covered by NPR and The Atlantic.
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