Sunshine State News
By: Allison Nielsen
December 10, 2014
Every year departments of education throughout the country dole out reports on individual schools, ranking them on their graduation rates and their proficiency in math, science, English and college preparedness. Too often, however, the reports can be confusing to parents and policymakers trying to learn more about their schools.
Not any more, says the Foundation for Excellence in Education hopefully.
“It’s critically important in helping to facilitate really good, rigorous discussion about the quality of education different types of students are receiving in different types of schools,” said John Bailey, vice president of policy at the foundation, on the importance of the reports. “This information is really useful, but one of the things we’ve learned … is that there’s a huge difference between a state releasing its data and data being really intuitive, obvious and easy to understand.”
For this reason, Bailey said there needed to be a better way for parents to visualize results.
So, in September, the foundation reached out to graphic designers from across the country to help reinvigorate ho-hum, jargonistic reports and make them easier for parents and policymakers to understand. The foundation offered a $15,000 grand prize for the winners of the My School Information Design Challenge who made the best improvements to the states’ report cards.
Designers were contacted via social media, blogs and phone to get the word out about the contest. After submissions were in, a group of judges representing parents, designers and educators voted on the remodeled report cards.
Designers were urged to add color, revamp graphs, make the charts a little bit more accessible to the average reader.
In the end, 24 different designers and design firms submitted reports to the contest. After the first round of cuts, about 15 submissions made it to the final round and were judged for public voting in four categories: best summary, best comparison, best user experience and best trend data.
Washington, D.C.-based communications firm Collaborative Communications and Social Driver walked away with the first-place title and the $15,000 grand prize. Another D.C.-based digital consultancy, Rennzer, took home the $10,000 runner-up prize.
“This design challenge was an excellent opportunity for teams like ours to lend rich, concentrated effort out of which true innovation can be born,” said Omid Jahanbin, founder and CEO of Rennzer. “We saw this as an opportunity to not only resharpen our own skills but bring a fresh perspective to states on how data turns into insight.”
“We find making information about schools accessible is one way of bringing in an important public voice to the conversation about student learning,” said Kris Kurtenbach, founder and president of Collaborative Communications and Thomas Sanchez, founder and CEO of Social Driver. “What we can do today with mobile and digital technologies to engage communities in education would have been unimaginable a few short years ago.”
“I think we’ve highlighted that design isn’t something that’s secondary … good design matters,” said John Bailey.
Beyond the design competition, Bailey says, the new reports will be beneficial for states hoping to make report card results more easily accessible to states looking to revamp their designs. Aspects of the entries will be available on Creative Commons, which allows users to build upon and legally share designs.
“Elements of these can be used by states literally immediately as a way to sort of help them show various aspects underneath their report cards,” said Bailey.
If states take the designs into their own hands, Bailey says, they’ll be better prepared to equip parents to fully involve themselves in the education system.
“The whole goal of that is not to just help states, but to help better engage parents and make sure that this data is more easily understood by them so that they can make the decisions they need to engage in the education reports debates we’re all having.”