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New User-Friendly Designs Pump Up the Volume on State Report Cards

February 25, 2015 - 6:00pm

School report cards are well on their way to a 21st-century look thanks to a group of graphic designers hoping to bring crisp, easy-to-understand visuals to show student progress across the country.

According to federal law, all states are required to publish an annual report card for each school, detailing demographics, performance, graduation rates and other academic indicators.

Research indicates, however, that many of these report cards are difficult to find and nearly impossible to understand, making it tough to get a handle on the results.

Based on some research we did ... theres lots of states reporting lots of numbers, but its not very intuitive or easy to understand, said John Bailey, vice president of policy at the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

The designers goal: to make state report cards assessing school progress easier to understand for parents and policymakers.

The foundation created theMy School Information Design Challenge, pushing designers to createthe most effective report cards using innovative, unique and clean designs -- the designs focused primarily on easy navigation, customization and user-friendly charts and graphs.

That was in September. Nearly six months later, the foundation has researched the effectiveness of the reports -- and so far, so good.

The next phase is for us to be able to share this with states so that they can take it and use [these designs] for their own report cards, said Bailey.

A closer look at the winning designs shows sleek, uncluttered and easy-to-navigate sites. Designers even made the mock-ups accessible on mobile phones -- technology becoming increasingly more common with the average cellphone user.

States hoping to give parents and lawmakers a better understanding of school rankings would be wise to revamp their report cards, says the foundation.

The foundation shared the designs with state departments of education and legislators, giving them the green light to use the designs for their own report cards.

States are in the driver's seat, wrote Communications Director Allison Aubuchon. This challenge has provided design options and new ways of thinking about data visualization. It has shown states that, to be effective, school report cards must have a user-centered design and a functionality that empowers action among parents and other stakeholders. But the onus is on states to take the first steps toward developing the next generation of school report cards.

Social media is also an important aspect of keeping up with the times -- this means states need to make information shareable over a variety of social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, all of which have grown in recent years.

Easy-to-understand report cards are incredibly beneficial in a state like Florida which promotes school choice for students in struggling schools.

Report cards are more important than ever before, said Bailey. One of the best methods of accountability is to have really good transparency. The more that student outcome data is brought into the light, the better informed parents are going to be to take advantage of all the choice programs you have in Florida.

Bailey said designers were currently working with several states to revamp their report cards, but its not clear whether Florida is one of these states.

To read more about the design challenge, click here.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen

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