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Learn how to use community report cards to call attention to needs and share progress on addressing prioritized issues.

 

  • What is a community report card?

  • Why might you create a community report card?

  • What are the common elements of community report card?

  • How do you create a community report card?

  • How do you use a community report card?

The citizens of River City were concerned about their children. For some – particularly the parents of kids in trouble or failing in school – the concern was very personal. Others – educators and human service professionals – were involved through their work. But regardless of their connection, they were united by a common purpose: to improve conditions for River City’s children and youth.

Some of the professionals were worried about a recent drop in the rate of immunizations. Working parents fretted about finding high-quality, affordable day care. And professionals and parents alike knew that teens needed more safe places to gather and more things to do.

How could the citizens of River City express their separate but related concerns in a way that would prompt positive action toward solving some of these problems?  As members of various groups began to come together and recognize their common goals, they decided they needed two things: a report on where things stood at the present moment, and a way to frame the agenda for action.

Communities often need to call attention to a growing problem or issue, or simply to monitor their efforts to improve their quality of life.  Preparing a report on the current situation and setting goals for improvement are steps that can be taken to alert citizens to the fact that an issue exists, and to gain support for action.  This section explains what community report cards are, and how they can be used to create community change.

What is a community report card?

Like its model, the academic report card, a community report card is a tool for reporting progress – or lack of progress – toward a community goal. We’ve all had experience with report cards, so we know this news sent home from school can mean a time for rejoicing or one for dismay. Academic report cards can prompt celebration or a new resolve to work harder and smarter. Similarly, the community report card can be an effective tool for both taking stock and prompting action.

In addition to the information contained in the report card, it is also an important act of communication between sender and receiver. Whatever the news, there is bound to be a response if the recipient is truly involved. This is the main value of report cards, in both the school and community contexts.

Even a straight-A student needs encouragement and new challenges. For students (or communities) whose grades are less than stellar, a constructive response is most needed, one that moves beyond blame or upset to a search for ways to improve the next report card – and, of course, to increase learning, not just grades. As a parent in this situation, you might work with your child to set goals, devise a plan to improve her study skills, and increase communication with her teacher. As a community member, you could undertake or encourage the same type of problem-solving responses.

The second purpose of the report card, beyond providing information, is to direct the progress of continued problem-solving efforts toward a goal. We generally know what is involved in the curriculum that a child in public school is expected to master; for a community report card, however, the goals must be defined and clearly stated.

A community might be working on any number of “subjects,” so its report card should evaluate areas and goals that residents agree are important and desirable. These might include, for example, more affordable housing, safer neighborhoods, and expanded employment opportunities for teens.

The process of preparing a report card can actually help citizens identify their priorities and objectives. In River City, the goals that were eventually set as standards for the report card included 100% immunization by age four, increased day care options, and a new recreation center for teens.

Finally, it is important to remember that the report card is only the messenger. The people on the giving and, ideally, those on the receiving end of a community report card must be the agents of change. If you’re reading this, you are most likely in the first category – taking on the role of community grader, evaluator, or reporter. Therefore we emphasize throughout this section a question you and your collaborators should answer before you create a community report card:  What is your purpose?

Why might you create a community report card?

For a community report card to be useful, you must first understand its purpose. What do you want to accomplish with a report card? What will you grade, and why? To whom will you communicate the grades, and why?

Of course we hope that all community members will respond constructively to an undesirable report card grade. But if you’re part of the group that is sending that report card “home” to the public or some specific audience, chances are good that you are also the one who must, in some way, drive the response to the report card.

These are some of the common (and usually related) reasons and occasions for creating a report card. Your effort might have others.

  • To communicate the facts of a situation – to your own group or a wider audience
  • To interpret the facts
  • To raise awareness of an issue in the general public or more specific audiences
  • To define goals
  • To prompt action
  • To influence policy
  • To help make a case for a new initiative
  • To be accountable to those you serve
  • To hold others accountable

A one-time or occasional report card might help call attention to your issue, for better or worse. If you aren’t sure exactly where you’re headed, a report card could even be used as an organizing tool, helping you discover what the community’s greatest needs are. But if you intend to use the report card to track change and progress over an extended period of time (months at least, and usually years), make sure you consider the extensive data gathering that is required before you begin.

If you integrate the report card into your mission, strategic plan, and objectives, however, it will not necessarily create more work, and may offer the advantage of a clear reporting format.

The Partnership for Children Report Card on the Status of Children in Metro Kansas City, Missouri

From 1992 to 2006, the Partnership for Children in Kansas City, Missouri produced an annual Report Card on the Status of Children in Metro Kansas City.

Jim Caccamo, Executive Director, stressed the importance of the first step: clarifying the purpose of your report card. The Partnership’s report card was intended to encourage community actions to improve children's lives and to raise new voices on behalf of children. It was also used as a public relations tool to demonstrate to the community that their hard work was beginning to make a difference for kids.

Other communities, Caccamo notes, may want something more like a Kids Count data book, which presents research of a more academic type. Either way, it is crucial to determine what you want to accomplish at the beginning.

The Partnership's Report Card focuses on five categories to summarize the well being of children and youth:

  • Safety and Security
  • Health
  • Early Education
  • Education
  • Teen Years

The Report Card states: “Our goal is that the report card will provide the Greater Kansas City community with information on the well-being of our children and youth in each of the benchmarks examined.  With such information, citizens, policymakers, civic leaders, and philanthropists can be more fully educated about the needs of children and youth in order to take appropriate actions on their behalf.

The 2006 Report Card & Data Briefing is a great example of a community report card; their graphic presentation communicates clearly, but also raises additional questions. For those who want to understand more fully the measurements behind the grades – and the needs of children and youth in the area – the Partnership provides additional levels of detail and information, including:

  • Explanation of benchmark choices (items “widely regarded as good measures of children's well being”)
  • Explanation of trend analysis
  • Explanation of how grades are assigned
  • Information about 2010 goals
  • A full data appendix

To make sure communication is clear even on the simpler issues, it also defines the letter grades (A = Excellent, B = Good, C = Needs improvement, etc.).

Additionally, each annual Report Card featured an “Honor Roll” to recognize individuals, businesses, and organizations that made significant contributions toward improving conditions for children and youth in Kansas City.

Each year when the report card was completed, the Partnership for Children sent print copies to change agents, including social service agencies, school superintendents, early education practitioners and advocates, health care providers, policymakers, influential citizens, and grant funders. The coalition also held a press conference to announce the grades for the year and the implications for work needed, and published the full report on its website.

It makes sense for schools to use a report card, but why should your group or effort use this type of communication instead of some other reporting method? The community report card format has several advantages:

  • People understand it. Most of us have experience with report cards, and therefore the language of grades communicates to a broad base of people.
  • Selection of a few key issues or categories helps focus attention for problem-solving.
  • Report cards effectively communicate a general message, yet allow for more specific levels of detail to be expressed.

What are the common elements of a community report card?

Your purpose will dictate the information included in your report card. The essential questions about purpose come into play again here: What does your group or coalition want to accomplish by grading the community? To whom will it communicate, and for what reason?

That said, most report cards include the following:

  • A statement of purpose, possibly with a call to action
  • The report card itself
  • Explanations of chosen indicators and benchmarks (discussed below)
  • An objective measuring system that can show progress toward stated goals

The essentials, of course, are the grades and the “subjects.” For a community report card, those subjects, major categories, or areas of concern are usually called indicators.

While people might agree that child health is an important indicator for the health of their community, they might not agree upon or even understand the details and complexity of that indicator. Child health might mean immunization to one person, while to another it refers to dietary habits.

So a report card also needs to include an explanation of its indicators – an outline, essentially, of the main points involved in this “subject.” These are usually called the benchmarks for an indicator – the specific areas you are measuring and evaluating to produce a grade. (In the academic model, you might think of these as the individual quizzes, papers, and exams that comprise a final course grade.) A community report card should at the least name and itemize these indicators. Many report cards go further to include detailed explanations of how the indicators were measured, the context for the data gathered, and the grading methods used.

The following example illustrates the scope and depth that a community report card project can entail:

Pathways 2020 Cowlitz County Community Report Card 2010

Since 2000, Pathways 2020, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving quality of life in Cowlitz County, Washington, has been issuing Community Report Cards. According to their website, Community Report Cards “serve as a guide for local government and agencies in developing responses to public health disparities in the county. It [is] vital for Pathways 2020 and others to focus on a few key issues in order to maximize successful outcomes.” Pathways 2020 concentrates on promoting healthy life styles, enhancing education opportunities, and supporting families as their target areas.

The initial Cowlitz County Community Report Cards used the guidelines of Healthy People 2010, and the release of Healthy People 2020 prompted a review of Pathways 2020’s goals. Healthy People 2020 goals are often a 10% or 20% improvement over the current rate, and Pathways 2020 feels that this approach provides realistic, achievable goals that encourage action, and revised their goals similarly.

Grades for each indicator were determined based on three factors: trend over the years, comparison to Washington State, and progress towards the revised Pathways 2020 goals and, if applicable, the national Healthy People 2020 goals.

The Cowlitz County 2010 Community Report Card has 6 main areas that it concentrates on, with several individual indicators for each.

Healthy Lifestyles:

  • Healthy Weight
  • Life Expectancy
  • Mortality Rates
  • Smoking While Pregnant
  • Childhood Immunizations
  • Suicide Rates
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • Adult Smoking Rate
  • Economy

Housing Wage

  • Median Household Income
  • Unemployed Workforce
  • Affordable Housing

Education

Early Childhood Education
High School Dropouts
Education Beyond High School
 

Families

  • Domestic Violence
  • Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Families in Poverty
  • Teen Pregnancy
  • Adults With Health Insurance
  • Elder Fatal Falls
     

Community

  • Alcohol and Drug Related Deaths
  • Crime Rates
  • Registered Voters Who Voted

Environment

  • Recycling
  • Foodborne Illness
  • Asthma

For each of the indicators, they include a grade A, B, C, D, or F, as well as graphs and a brief write-up detailing the circumstances in Cowlitz County for each issue.

For each of the broad categories, the Report also includes a “Call to Action” section, with suggestions for action at the individual, community, and policy-making levels. Additionally, they feature “Making an Impact” box inserts for selected topics, detailing recent improvements in that area in Cowlitz County.

The Cowlitz County Community Report Cards are an excellent example of a thorough assessment of community indicators, written in accessible language, with helpful, specific actions for individuals, the community, and policy makers to take to improve current conditions.

How do you create a community report card?

All of the steps involved in producing a report card have a “who” component, which we’ll discuss as they arise.

The most important and perhaps most difficult step is the first one, which should be repeated throughout the process.

Decide what your purpose is in producing a report card.

Form a working group to determine what you want to communicate, to whom, and for what reason.  Take the time to agree upon your purpose for producing a report card, and keep this purpose in mind throughout the effort. Would a research report accomplish your goal as well, or even better? Why is the grading format the best way to communicate your message and motivate action?

All major partners in an effort should be involved in this decision. If the report card is right for you, the process of discussion will also yield the general plan for the project.

To understand your purpose, consider the major elements of the report card.

  • What do we want to grade? Why?
  • Who needs to know these results? To whom will we communicate, for what reason?
  • What do we hope our audience will do, say, or think as a result of this information?

As discussed above, the Partnership for Children used its report cards as a public relations tool to demonstrate to community members how their hard work is made a difference for kids and also to highlight areas where more work was needed. While the Partnership knew that policymakers, school superintendents and other professionals would be interested in their report card, another goal was to reach new groups and raise new voices on behalf of children.

Population Connection’s Kid-Friendly Cities 2004 Report Card provided information on 239 cities in the U.S. with a population of more than 100,000, grading them on population, health, education, public safety, economics, environment, and community life. Its producers say the report card “is not a relocation guide. Rather, it is a tool for change, providing information that concerned citizens can use to identify conditions that need improvement in their communities.”

Review existing models before you begin. Kansas Action for Children, Inc., based in Topeka, Kansas, adopted the grading system used by its neighbor in Kansas City, Missouri, the Partnership for Children. If a good thing has been developed and tested, borrow it!

Set a timeline for your project that relates to your goals.

For a report card to be most meaningful – both as a report and a call to action – it needs to track change over a significant amount of time.

A timeline is usually integral to defining your benchmarks. While a particular group might use a one-time report card to call attention to its issue, for most a meaningful amount of time will mean years. A report card project will likely require long-term commitment and planning.

Determine the essential actors and actions.

Once you know why you want to produce a report card, the questions of who and what will unfold together. We’ll elaborate on these items in the specifics steps that follow.

  • Who will be involved in and responsible for the producing the report card?
  • Who will fund the effort?
  • Who will determine the benchmarks or indicators for grading?
  • Who will develop the measurement system?
  • Who will collect the data?
  • Who will determine the grading system and assign the grades?
  • Who will interpret the grades and data for the public?
  • Who will write the text and key messages that accompany the grades?
  • Who will produce the print and electronic versions?
  • Who will publicize the report card, to whom?
  • Who will follow up with the resulting plans and actions?

Most report cards are produced and funded by coalitions that organize around a common issue. If you can join forces with other groups that share your concerns, you will probably have greater resources in terms of person power and funds.

A collaborative effort not only widens your perspective, but also usually gives you access to more information and research, better funding options, and a larger potential audience.

Identify indicators related to your goals.

Knowing your purpose will help you decide what to measure. Are there certain indicators or goals that everyone in the community agrees are important? Generally, all members of the initiative and community representatives should be involved in this stage of a comprehensive effort. Consult local experts as well. Find consensus on the indicators that truly indicate your issues of concern and the impacts you seek to have.

Choose data points that people care about, and resist the temptation or pressure to choose too many. You can’t measure everything. Members of your initiative should decide what the significant items are, and make a realistic assessment about your ability to collect the relevant data.

If you grade the community on more than five or six indicators, your message may be diffused. (Remember the school model – even the best students study only a handful of subjects at time. There are exceptions, of course, and good reasons to rank more categories, as the American Society of Engineers do in their infrastructure report card.

Start with a few key indicators. Don’t overextend. You can branch or subdivide later. Phrase your major categories in simple language that people can easily understand.

Selecting Indicators: Some Ideas from Existing Programs

The Partnership for Children, as illustrated above, chose to grade five broad categories that influence the well-being of children: Safety and Security, Health, Early Education, Education, and Teen Years.

What do your report card users want? The Kid-Friendly Cities Report Card determines its indicators in part by responses from readers. Radhika Sarin, the principal researcher, says: “In the past, we received many comments about the importance of ‘intangibles.’ Is there a feeling of community in a city? Are the people friendly? How diverse is that city? What about culture? Intangibles, as one youngster said, reflect ‘how much fun I have!’” That led to a new Community Life category.

Like academic report cards, most community report cards grade only a handful of subjects. The Government Performance Project grades four main areas in its Grading the States report cards: financial management, human resources, information technology, and capital management.

In contrast, some projects that are titled report cards are really more similar to annual reports. Compare the different perspective on the city of Philadelphia presented in the Federal Reserve Bank’s 2011 Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Survey.  This report does not issue grades, but does provide extensive charts, graphs and other data to explore the factors behind the relatively slow job growth in the region.

If you want to use a report card, take advantage of the common language and experience most people have with grades to communicate your message.

Identify benchmarks for each indicator that are meaningful and measurable.

It will probably be fairly easy for your group to agree on broad areas or goals for your indicators, such as a healthy environment for all children. Agreeing on the individual benchmarks within each broad category, however, might be more difficult. Many specific items contribute to the health of children, including immunization, smoke-free environments, and prenatal care.

Keep your purpose in sight. You can’t please all parties, so don’t be surprised – and be ready to hold your ground – if constituents or advocates for a particular issue pressure you to include different or additional measures. You need to draw the line somewhere on benchmarks, and need to determine which are most applicable to your category.

For example, local high school principals might not be happy with the use of ACT scores to grade their school’s performance, but parents consider them meaningful. Again, consider your purpose in weighing options. Choosing benchmarks often means choosing between audiences. If you have decided to use a particular benchmark for certain reasons, don’t feel obligated to substitute or add those suggested by specialists in a particular field.

Equally important, make sure you choose benchmarks that can be measured in some definable way. And even if measurement is theoretically possible, make sure it is actually possible. Do you have the resources or ability to measure or access data on the benchmarks?

It is important for your benchmark data to be reliable in order for your report card to be credible.

Selecting Measurable Benchmarks

For each of its major indicators, the Partnership for Children included at least three benchmarks that are “widely regarded as good measures of children's well being.” Data is collected for each of these benchmarks, then the data is calculated according to a set formula to produce the score for each category. The five major indicators are listed in bold face, with measurable benchmarks listed below each:

Safety & Security       

  • Violent Crime
  • Child Abuse & Neglect
  • Childhood Injuries
  • Free/Reduced Lunch

Health

  • Prenatal Care
  • Low Birth Weight
  • Infant Mortality
  • Immunizations

Early Education

  • Quality
  • Workforce Development
  • Workforce Stability
  • Access to Services

Education

  • School Readiness
  • Achievement Scores
  • High School Completion

Teen Years

  • Teen Births
  • Alcohol & Drug Use
  • Teen Homicides

For each indicator, there are probably a dozen other possibilities. Lead poisoning, obesity, and suicide are all important factors in the health of children, but the Partnership selected benchmarks that it felt best indicated general health.

Over the lifetime of a report card project, be careful to keep the same major categories or data points. If you need ideas on significant and measurable categories, the National Directory of Community Health Report Cards contains an appendix with sample indicator sets from communities around the U.S.

Determine your grading scale and system.

It’s important to use a grading scale people understand, and to devise a system that is sensitive to small movements so the grades can change. You want to be able to show small gains.

The Partnership for Children adopted a 4.0 scale for its 2001 report card (A=4.0, B=3.0, C=2.0, D=1.0), after using a percentage scale on previous report cards (90-80-70-60). Donna Peck, Vice President of Communications, explained the change: “After meeting with our Data Advisory committee, we decided to switch to a 4.0 scale because that is what’s used in most area high schools and universities. It's a small change, but we are finding that people like it better and it needs less explanation.”

The Partnership also simplified its formula for calculating grades so people who were interested in looking at the expanded data would have an easier time understanding how the grades were figured. A committee of data experts developed the formula.

The Partnership provides a full data appendix, along with explanatory text for each benchmark. For example, in the health category, this detail is provided:

Benchmark: Low Birth Weight

In Greater Kansas City, 7.4% of babies born during 1999 weighed less than 5.5 pounds, which means they are at greater risk for medical problems. That percentage was down slightly from the previous year and was just below the national figure of 7.6%. Year 2010 Goal: Decrease low birth weight rate to no more than 5% of all live births

Compile the data for your indicators and benchmarks, then translate into a grade based on your predetermined system.

The nature of your organization or coalition, your funding, and other factors about your effort itself will determine who gathers the data.  For complex report cards, this is usually a designated person inside the effort or someone who is hired for this specific purpose. That person or persons should be familiar with relevant data sources (local, state, national or even international, depending on your project).

If possible, it’s best to use an independent or third party data collector because an objective person has no vested interest in making your effort look good. A third party collector confirms the objectivity of your effort and protects you from charges of “cooking the books.”

If you can’t afford a consultant, volunteers could help in this step. Perhaps a member of your board has expertise working with statistics. Maybe a local marketing firm will donate its services to compile results of a citizen survey, or perhaps one of your volunteers can conduct research at the local health department. The main point is to be consistent in collecting accurate, reliable data.

Some things are difficult if not impossible to measure, but once benchmarks are chosen, you can define the category in some measurable way. Its new Community Life category seemed difficult to measure, but Kid-Friendly Cities decided to collect information on two important aspects of children’s lives: libraries and parks. Their note here points out that data collection can be a tedious process: “Although this data was difficult to obtain (the only way we could find out about parks was by making, literally, hundreds of phone calls), we felt it was important for understanding children’s lives outside of home and school.”

Be prepared to encounter and explain problems with limited data. Here’s another example from the Kid-Friendly Cities Report Card:

“For nearly a decade now, we've been pointing out the lack of environmental monitoring under regulated standards and procedures. Water monitoring is one example. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires all public water systems to monitor water quality for coliform bacteria, contaminant levels, and water treatment chemical byproducts. Unfortunately, SDWA violations are self-reported, and not all cities monitor and report violations with equal frequency. It is difficult, therefore, to make accurate comparisons between cities' water quality because some cities either fail to examine water quality or fail to report violations.”

Produce the report card.

Create print and, if desired, electronic versions, communicating clearly with text, design, and graphics.

Easier said than done, of course. This includes:

  • Writing explanatory and interpretive text, including the talking points for publicity
  • Designing and producing print and (if possible) Internet report cards

The text that accompanies your data offers your group a chance to interpret the grades and statistics and frame the agenda for continued action. This is where you can focus your message. Emphasize the areas of greatest progress and those that need most work.

This is also where you can explain your grading system – what it means and how you calculated the grades. Does an A equal 90% and above, or 80%? How does the formula for compiling data translate to grades? It’s easiest to work with common assumptions, so unless you have a good reason to do otherwise, stick with the accepted definitions, such as: A – Excellent, B – Very Good, C – Average or Fair, D – Needs Improvement, F - Failing.

Whatever you do, spell it out clearly, and make sure your text clarifies your graphics.  Visuals such as graphs and charts are effective ways of presenting the big picture, while your text can add detail, explain, and answer questions. If you’re measuring your community against other cities or neighborhood districts, a chart will illustrate the results, while your text will explain what these grades mean in terms of your goals.

Whether or not you can afford a designer, make sure your graphic design communicates as clearly as your words. In both areas, make decisions that don’t overwhelm or confuse the reader. The value of a report card (especially if it’s a public relations tool) is partially in its simplicity.

In your print and web page design, clear communication means avoiding the “Everything but the Kitchen Sink” temptation – i.e., refrain from overusing images, clip art, and multiple fonts simply because they’re available. If you’re using a professional designer, these issues may not be pertinent, but sometimes designers de-emphasize important text in pursuit of a graphic look. So be attuned to your readers’ perspective when you review and approve design as well as text.

How do you use a community report card?

Here’s the key point again: Your use of the report card is embedded in your purpose for creating it. Why do you want the report card results?

In most cases, a community report card is intended to be a catalyst for action and further improvement. If you are measuring yourself against yourself, your next steps will be fairly clear. If you want to know how your group or initiative measures up against others, you’ll need to discuss the meaning of comparison in the early stages.

The report card speaks for itself, but you should also focus and craft the message you want to emphasize about the results. Sometimes a dismal grade makes your agenda very clear. This was the case in Kansas, when a grade of D for Child Care on the 2001 Kansas Action for Children report card made it clear where effort was needed.

Publicize and distribute the report card.

News releases, a press conference, direct mailings, personal visits – use every method you can to get your report card in front of the specific people and groups who should see it, as well as the general public.

The Partnership for Children publicized its report cards every fall with a press conference. Donna Peck notes that TV stations often produce 45-second stories, so the Partnership recognized this and offered segments to fit that format – usually a reaction to one of the grades. And the Partnership representatives came to the press conference knowing what they want to emphasize: typically one big improvement and one negative grade where work is still needed.

Tell people what they can do.

Your purpose is key here once again.

The Cowlitz County Community Report Card includes a “Call to Action” section, with suggestions for action at the individual, community, and policy-making levels. Additionally, they feature “Making an Impact” box inserts for selected topics, detailing recent improvements in that area in Cowlitz County, and how to expand on those efforts.

Kansas Action for Children (KAC) works to advance alternatives by developing state policy that is family and child friendly. Its report card is a major tool in its complementary strategy to paint the picture of children in Kansas by gathering and publicizing information on child well being.

While KAC uses the report card to advance policy, it also addresses the average citizen and offers simple advice for how every adult can improve the lives of children. A briefing book that accompanies the report card offers action tips in each category, under the heading “It Just Takes You to.…” For example, in the Teen category, it suggests:

“It Just Takes You to.…”

  • Really listen
  • Attend their concerts, games, and school events
  • Listen to their favorite music with them
  • Get to know their friends

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ report card on America’s infrastructure is meant to help people around the U.S. identify ways to encourage maintenance and repair of the infrastructure. The website urges people to help resolve the situation where they live in these ways:

“You can send a letter to your elected officials supporting infrastructure investment. On the ballot—vote YES on bond issues for schools, roads, and other infrastructure. Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about infrastructure concerns. It’s especially effective if you refer to a recent article written about your local infrastructure. Invite legislators to forums such as this one to talk about the concerns you have about your local infrastructure. These are just a few things you can do to make a difference. Help America’s civil engineers deliver a shining report card the next time around.”

Follow up

Continue to call attention to the important grades and the actions you want them to prompt.  Are you providing results to the taxpayers or a funder to whom you are accountable? Or are you compiling data for the general public to use as they need? Posting your report card on a website works well if your purpose is primarily one of accountability and people will come looking for you.

In 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer publishes an online Report Card on the Schools that is a searchable database containing demographics, financial statistics and test results for the region’s school districts, public high schools, and private, charter, and technical schools. Users can get information on class sizes, SAT scores, teacher salaries, and other data.

Evaluation of the data, however, is left to the user.

If your purpose is more assertive, continue to publicize your report card with releases that tie in to current events or reports. For instance, if a case of child abuse is reported in the local paper, you can call a reporter’s attention to the report card as a source of background material. Use e-mail lists, conferences, and other networks to make people aware of your report card.

Update the report card

This long-term process of collecting and reporting data might also require you to change practices, develop new systems, and consider larger issues of coordination with other agencies or initiatives. Changes like these could be part of the report card’s value to your effort and those whom it means to benefit.

In Summary

Community report cards measure the status of the health or well being of a community by grading a limited number of indicators, or key areas of concern to a community. Report cards are effective public relation tools for informing people about problems and success in certain areas, and are commonly used to prompt action.

Measurable benchmarks are selected for each indicator and data is compiled on each to produce a category grade. If your purpose in creating a report card is to focus problem-solving efforts, you should also summarize and explain the results.

A report card project should cover a meaningful period of time in order for significant progress or change to be measured. For the citizens of River City, our example from the beginning of this section, this could mean one report card project folds when the original goals to improve the lives of children are met, while another report card project begins to help assess and improve living conditions for the elderly in River City.

Contributor 
Val Renault

Online Resources

The Annie E. Casey Foundation provides KIDS COUNT 2015 Data Book Online allows you to generate custom graphs, maps, ranked lists, and state-by-state profiles.

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a system of health-related telephone surveys that collect state data about U.S. residents regarding their health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventive services.

The CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Widget uses Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data from 2011 to 2014 for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Visit this site to obtain code to embed badges and widgets in websites, social networking sites, and blogs.

Competitive Cities Report Card, from Reason Public Policy Institute, grades U.S. cities for services, transit, parks and recreation, police, libraries, and other areas.

Under the Local Health Reports section on the Cowlitz County Health Department website, you can view Community Report Cards for several years.

The GOALS 2000: EDUCATE AMERICA ACT was signed into law on March 31, 1994. The Act provides resources to states and communities to ensure that all students reach their full potential. Goals 2000 establishes a framework in which to identify world-class academic standards, to measure student progress, and to provide the support students may need to meet the standards.

The Government Performance Project provides report cards for all 50 states.

The State of Ohio Department of Education publishes Interactive Local Report Cards by district and for the state.

The Partnership for Children in greater Kansas City, MO, issued annual report cards from 1992 - 2006.

The city of Kingston in Ontario, Canada produces the Report Card to Citizens to improve the way it delivers services to citizens.

New Jersey School Report Cards provide statistical profiles of public schools using information from the State Dept. of Education.

Print Resources

Berk, E. (1996). Infants, Children, and Adolescents. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Health Research and Educational Trust. (1988). National Directory of Community Health Report Cards. Chicago, IL. Available from American Hospital Association, catalog number 169300, telephone orders 1-800-AHA-2626.