Newswise — BUFFALO, N.Y. – If the Nation’s Report Card, an annual report formerly known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), was reimagined to include physical and emotional health in addition to academics, the United States would receive a C average, says University at Buffalo educational policy expert Jaekyung Lee.

The Nation’s Report Card is widely considered the benchmark tool to measure U.S. student achievement.

But the report is solely focused on standardized test scores and fails to account for children’s socioemotional and physical development, both of which strongly correlated to academic performance, says Lee, PhD, professor of counseling, school and educational psychology in the UB Graduate School of Education.

“It is high time that we redesign the Nation’s Report Card and transition away from a narrow focus on academic achievement to a more balanced and holistic system that promotes health and emotional growth as well,” says Lee. “Under the current pandemic crisis, this transformation is more of an imperative than ever before.”

Filling in the gaps

Only 30% of students met expectations for balanced cognitive, emotional and physical development, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten. And those who did meet expectations were significantly more likely to be white and socioeconomically advantaged.

Although the Nation’s Report Card focuses on student performance on standardized achievement tests – a trend influenced by government policies, according to previous research by Lee – the report still provides important insights into how student achievement has changed over time, in a variety of subject areas, and in states and districts across the country.

To fill in the gaps, Lee proposes merging NAEP data with information from the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), which provides comprehensive data about child health and well-being, but no information on achievement.

Detailed in an article published recently in Phi Delta Kappan, Lee compiled data from a 2015 NAEP survey of nearly 140,000 students in each the fourth and eighth grades and a 2016 NSCH survey of nearly 140,000 households to form a single comprehensive report.

The reimagined Nation’s Report Card grades for academic proficiency (reading, math, science and social studies test scores), socioemotional wellness (engagement in school, curiosity for learning and ability to handle challenges) and physical health (healthy weight, exercise frequency and physical challenges).

Grades for each category were formulated based on the percentage of students who succeeded or met expectations. Combined, the scores form a whole child grade.

Lee also used NSCH data to create a whole community index that highlight factors within families and communities that may give context to student performance in school and on tests, including bullying, school and neighborhood safety, traumatic childhood experiences, and having a protective and supportive family and neighborhood.

Nation scores low in academics and emotional health

According to the reimagined report, only half of U.S. students are doing well academically, socially and physically, resulting in a C average, says Lee.

Schools received a B+ for physical health, C for socioemotional wellness and a D for academic proficiency. Grading at the state level varied from a B+ to a D-. No state received an A.

For all 50 states, there was a positive relationship among academic proficiency, physical health and socioemotional wellness. Rather than prioritizing one area at the expense of others, states can pursue all three simultaneously, says Lee. There was also a strong positive relationship between the whole child grades and the whole community index, regardless of race and income level.

“Schools alone aren’t responsible for student outcomes. States where students live in a protective and nurturing family-school-neighborhood environment are more likely to produce more physically and emotionally healthy and high-achieving students,” says Lee. “It really does take a whole community to raise a whole child.”

A reimagined Nation’s Report Card could provide governments, educators and families with the information necessary to improve student outcomes, he adds.

“This broader approach to understanding which schools and communities are serving their children well will enable us to extend their success into more communities, helping more children become healthier, happier and smarter,” says Lee.