For parents and educators who want to see how their students’ scores on state standardized tests compare to the scores of their peers, help may soon be on the way in the form of a web site run by the San Francisco-based, nonprofit GreatSchools.net.

GreatSchools recently announced a new feature on its site that allows California parents to compare their children’s 2000 Standardized Testing and Reporting Program (STAR) scores with the scores of their classmates. The organization’s president, Bill Jackson, said he hopes eventually to expand the feature’s scope to all 50 states.

GreatSchools.net has been supplying educators and parents with information about California and Arizona schools since September 1999, providing school profiles that include information on enrollment, facilities, teacher qualifications, and student demographics.

The new portion of the web site, called “MyStarStudent,” marks the first time that parents have been able to receive easy-to-use information on the internet about how their children perform relative to their classmates, according to Courtney Seabring, a GreatSchools.net marketing associate.

Users are prompted to enter a grade level and a school name. The site then provides a guide to understanding the testing scorecard that parents receive in the mail. Once a particular student’s scores are entered, the site generates a set of bar graphs depicting exactly how the student compared to his or her classmates in reading, math, and other subjects.

“This information is critical for parents to get a full picture of their children’s performance,” Jackson said in a company statement.

The test score reports sent home by school districts give parents information about how students scored relative to a national sample, but do not include grade-level or school-level results.

“It is important to be able to compare a child to [his or her] peers,” Jackson said. “This way, if a student is behind everyone else in the class in one particular subject, the parent can go to the teacher and ask what to do. Likewise, if everyone in the class is behind in the same subject, the parent can go directly to the principal and ask what can be done to improve the situation.”

Early reviews of MyStarStudent by administrators are positive. “It really pulls together demographic information in an easy-to-use format,” said Kathy Schmierer, principal of Lou Henry Hoover Elementary School in Whittier, Calif. “I was just really tickled to find out about this.

“I found out about GreatSchools when a parent came to my school and we entered his daughter’s test scores in and compared them to her classmates. It really opened up the conversation about this student’s amazing strengths as well as where she needs some improvement,” Schmierer said.

GreatSchools.net hopes to bring a level of accountability to schools, teachers, and the students themselves. “It helps parents ask good questions, and that is a big part of accountability,” Jackson said.

But Jackson warns parents and educators not to use test scores as the only yardstick by which to measure performance. “There are limits to the scores,” he said. “You can’t really take the small differences into account.” Instead, he urged parents to look for patterns of performance.

California parents have been able to compare their children’s STAR results for the past two years using the state Department of Education’s web site. That site provides users with average subject and grade scores by state, county, district, and school, but GreatSchools.net claims to be the first to arrange this critical information in an easy-to-digest set of bar graphs.

“GreatSchools is not the first site to provide the raw data, but it is the first site to allow you to see [those] data easily,” Jackson said.

Simplicity and the ability to customize information are what make GreatSchools.net useful, Jackson contends. “The figures came to us from the state of California. Anyone who wants to can get this information from the state, but the basic idea here is that with three steps, you can create a customized report for your child,” he said. “We also provide some explanations to various questions parents have about the standardized tests.

So far, Jackson said, the site has experienced a flood of responses from parents eager to gain a better understanding of their kids’ test scores. “The rule in the internet world seems to be that when you make something twice as easy to use, ten times more people will use it,” he said.

Jackson hopes that one day, all parents will take an active interest in their children’s education through tools such as MyStarStudent.

“In the past, we have analyzed the usage of the GreatSchools.net site and found that there is a correlation between higher-income students and parent involvement,” he said. “Our goal is to partner with community-based organizations and libraries to get the word out to parents who are less likely to come to a site like this, unless introduced to it by a member of the community.”

Jackson also hopes to expand the reach of GreatSchools.net to all 50 states. “We plan to expand nationally in the next several years, and that includes the profile feature and customizable features like MyStarStudent. We are hoping to launch the profiles for six more states, primarily in the East and Midwest, during 2001, depending on funding,” he said.

Links:

GreatSchools.net
http://www.greatschools.net

California Department of Education
http://www.cde.ca.gov