11 November 2011

It Goes Both Ways

Recently, Good held a contest for a report card redesign. Here was the winning entry, by Polly Avignon:

While it was obvious that none of the candidates applied best practices for grading and reporting to their entry, as Susan Brookhart recently pointed out for ASCD, I have to say that we educators also deserve some of the blame. We might know a thing or two about grading and reporting, but we've had decades to redesign report cards to reflect those practices and have not stepped up to the plate. I'm sure that information designers look at our paltry efforts and say the same things about our design knowledge that we point out about their understanding of grading practices. At some point, we have to stop throwing stones and step up to learning how to communicate data both accurately and using the principles of good design.

We don't all have to invent new report formats, but we should not be afraid to ask for better from the companies which push software into schools. This includes not only those who sell gradebooks, but also those which supply benchmark and formative assessment materials. Shall we look at a few that are used heavily in Washington?

Up first: DIBELS (graph from here)

This has to be one of the ugliest colour combos around. I'm all for the "stoplight" approach to formatting data, but there are better shades than these. And there's the weird thing going on with the labeled ranges along the bottom. Thousands of teachers are handed these charts (or review them online)---all trusting that this is good design.

How about AIMSweb, a Pearson product?

Probably good information here, but who can tell? Is this really the best we can do to give teachers an at-a-glance view of student performance?

And, finally, MAP from NWEA:

The yellow is attention-getting, for sure (original here). But again, we're lacking in representing the data in a friendly way.

And so, my fellow educators, it's time to stand up against bad design---not just bad principles communicated through good design. Tell software companies that it's time to give us the kind of reports we and our students deserve. Start taking two minutes to clean up the charts and graphs you produce. Find a design scheme that works for you and stick with it. Remember that responsibility goes both ways.

Have you visited Excel for Educators recently? You missed these posts:

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