By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Contributor

The public reporting requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offer greater transparency about school quality, according to experts and education advocates who also predict that the new law will empower parents and make them more informed partners in the education process of their children.

President Barack Obama signed ESSA into law on Dec. 10, 2015.

“Public reporting is going to be very important, because state systems, like what goes into [calculating] letter grades for schools, are incredibly complex,” said Phillip Lovell, the vice president of policy development and government relations for the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C.-based national advocacy organization that’s dedicated to ensuring all students graduate from high school, ready for success in college and in the workplace. “States are aware of and working on how to communicate information on school performance clearly.”

Brenna McMahon Parton, the director of policy and advocacy for Data Quality Campaign, one of the nation’s leading voices on education data policy and use, said that everyone deserves information, which is why ESSA requires that report cards are easy to understand.

“To date, states haven’t focused on parent needs and, as a result, report cards are difficult to find and use,” said Parton. “As states develop new report cards, they should be sure that parents will have a one-stop-shop that provides information they need about how students and schools in their community are performing.”

ESSA reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the historic civil rights law passed in 1965 and effectively replaced the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act.

Transparency and parental engagement are integral parts of the new law.

Under ESSA, all schools receiving Title I funds must inform parents of their right to request information about the professional qualifications of their children’s teachers; parents are also encouraged to support their children’s educational experiences by communicating regularly with teachers.

In a post on “The 74,” a nonprofit news site dedicated to education, Rashidah Morgan of Education First, said that, “Greater transparency about school quality, will ultimately empower parents to make more knowledgeable choices about schools.”

Also, transparency on spending and academic results help the public understand how schools are performing in their communities, said Chad Aldeman, a principal at Bellwether Education Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on changing the outcomes and education life for the underserved.

“Accountability systems only work, if people understand what they’re being held accountable for and have enough information to know how to respond,” Aldeman said, adding that parents need good information to make informed choices about where to send their children. “To make that a reality, parents need information about both their own child’s performance, as well as how similar students are performing in other schools.”

Finally, clear, transparent school and district report cards help families make critical decisions and equip community members and the public to push for needed improvement in schools, said Dr. Lillian Lowery, the vice president of PreK-12 Policy, Research and Practice at The Education Trust, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. that promotes high academic achievement for students at all levels, particularly students of color and those of low-income.

“ESSA requires states to report a lot of important information on how schools are doing at preparing all groups of students, including students from low-income families, students of color, English learners and students with disabilities, for post-high school success,” said Lowery. “To maximize the usefulness of this information, state leaders should work with families and education advocates to ensure that report cards are easy to access and understand.”

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