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NIU-created online Illinois Report Card earns praise

Published: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

The Northern Illinois University team that creates illinoisreportcard.com is celebrating national recognition for the online, interactive Illinois report card as one of the best in the nation.

Education Commission of the States announced last month that the Illinois Report Card was the “only one in the nation to make the top picks for both parents and researchers, who applauded its online report card for being easy to find, easy to navigate, and easy to understand.”

Harvey Smith, director of the Illinois Report Card, credited the talented interdisciplinary NIU team that developed the new report card last year.

“Our programmers, database specialists, graphics artist and writers are all first-rate. This team has worked together for several years and was deeply invested in the existing Illinois Interactive Report Card. Now, they have completely redesigned the report card and reoriented it toward an audience of parents and general public,” Smith said in a news release.

“The agility and speed they displayed in pivoting to development of a new design has been outstanding. Along the way, we also held focus groups with educators in professional organizations and school districts around the state, and their feedback was invaluable.”

“This project takes bench strength,” Muqeet Mohammed Abdul, the senior programmer for the report card, said in the release.

“We have an integrated group of specialists who design screens, program the interactivity, manage huge state databases, test new features, research audience preferences, and write explanations that lay people can understand. And we also benefited from working closely with a high-stakes, real-world client. This has been quite a learning experience for us and for the NIU grad students and the undergrads who also work on our team.”

A state level committee met for more than a year to plan the new, parent-friendly report card, following a legislative mandate in 2012. The Illinois State Board of Education turned to NIU, which has produced an online report card for ISBE since 2004, to develop the new online service. The NIU team completely overhauled the existing design in about six months and met the state-mandated October 31, 2013, deadline for the new report card.

Graphics artist Brian Walk, who designed the data displays and developed the user interface for IllinoisReportCard.com, echoed the Education Commission of the States’ report that the new design represents cutting-edge practices in visualizing data.

“We applied the newest thinking and best national examples for making data meaningful and useful. Colorful, interactive screens help users understand school data. The hope is that parents will take the data to school and work with educators on behalf of their kids,” Walk said in the release.

Smith said some advanced features from the old edition of IIRC are still being redesigned and enhanced for the new IRC. These include web tools that educators, researchers and parents routinely utilize to help drive instructional decisions and assist individual learners.

In particular, the NIU team is developing updated versions of such popular features as Achievement Gap, Financial Trends, Cohort Analyses and Compare Schools data displays for the new report card.

“The response to the new report card from both parents and educators has been extraordinarily positive. The report card gets an average of 80,000 online visitors each month, a clear measure of its usefulness,” Smith said in the release. “This national recognition validates what we have been hearing across the state.”

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