Non-profit recommends changes to state report cards


By Scott Halasz - shalasz@aimmediamidwest.com



XENIA — A non-profit that promotes educational excellence for every child in America released a paper today calling for sweeping changes to the Ohio school report cards.

“Back to the Basics” written by the the Thomas B. Fordham Institute — which has offices in Washington, Columbus, and Dayton — analyzes the report card in detail and highlighted myriad ways they can be improved.

“As a vital look at the performance of Ohio schools, report cards should make sense to Ohioans,” said Aaron Churchill, Ohio Research Director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “While well-intentioned, Ohio’s phase-in of new performance measures in recent years has made report cards increasingly unwieldy and harder to comprehend.”

Three key recommendations are:

— Reduce the number of A-F grades. Ohio report cards now include 14 letter grades — and soon to be 15 as an overall rating comes out in 2018. Legislators should reduce the number of ratings to six: an overall grade plus five component ratings — Achievement, Progress, Graduation (four year), Prepared for Success, and Equity, according to the institute.

— Overhaul the Gap Closing component and rename it Equity. Gap Closing gauges the performance of subgroups, including students with disabilities, race/ethnic groups, etc. However, the current design of this component is unnecessarily complex and produces counterintuitive results, the paper said. Ohio lawmakers should overhaul this component so that the public can see clearly whether all groups of students are meeting achievement and growth goals.

— Create an overall school rating formula that better balances growth and achievement. Almost all high-poverty schools receive low ratings on achievement-based measures that largely reflect proficiency gaps between low- and high-income pupils, the paper indicates. As the state adds an overall rating next year, legislators need to enact a formula that is more evenhanded to all schools, regardless of the students they enroll, by placing greater weight on growth measures.

“By focusing so heavily on achievement measures, Ohio’s rating system unfairly labels high-poverty schools that are making big impacts on student growth as failures,” Churchill said. “With a prominent overall rating coming next fall, it’s critically important that legislators properly balance achievement and growth measures in this rating formula. If they fail to act, vast numbers of high-poverty schools will receive overall D’s and F’s, leaving families in these communities unable to distinguish dysfunctional schools from exceptional ones.”

Most of them would require legislative action — much of the report card framework is a matter of statute — while others could be handled by the State Board of Education or Ohio Department of Education (ODE), according to the institute.

One aspect the paper doesn’t address is the testing itself, which is still a chief complaint among Greene County superintendents.

“Changing the report card, without reducing the over-reliance on standardized testing is a job half complete,” Cedar Cliff Local Schools Superintendent Chad Mason said. “While I am certain everyone would prefer a simpler report card, I, for one, would appreciate a report card that measures everything schools are now required to do and is, at the very least, accurate in its reporting.”

Greeneview Local Schools Superintendent Isaac Seevers said, “While I support a more streamlined and understandable report card, I think this does little to address the real issues surrounding the inequity in the assessments and reporting. This report merely says we need to report the results differently, but it does nothing to address the place where the inequities and issues originate, which is at the original assessment.”

Seevers said assessments should “reflect the quality education taking place in Ohio schools.”

“The current report card is cumbersome, counterproductive, incapable of demonstrating the good that is happening in schools all across Ohio, and conflicts with itself with many of the measures. The only real solution to this issue is meaningful education reform that addresses the over-reliance on testing,” he said.

Beavercreek City Schools’ administration said the paper’s recommendations aligned with the district’s views.

“A streamlined Ohio state report card with metrics that more accurately reflect school district and student performance is needed. An improved report card ultimately serves the educational needs of our students as they progress through their educational pursuits,” a spokesperson for BCSD wrote in a statement.

The statement continued, stressing the importance of individual districts assessing their own needs.

“As suggested in the policy paper, efforts to improve Ohio’s state report card can be achieved at the state level through legislative and departmental action. The Beavercreek City School District agrees with that suggestion in principle but believes a better solution would shift greater administrative control to the local level. School districts across Ohio are in a better position to assess the needs of their students, families, and communities and therefore can more effectively tailor policies to meet those needs,” it reads.

The institute also recommends that that report cards should report a wide range of informative data about schools, but it shouldn’t be crammed into the formal report card system. Hard copies of Ohio’s school report cards are now 25 to 30 pages. While schools should send home physical report cards, they need only contain data that will hep the public focus on the most critical gauges of school quality, it said.

According to a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Education, the report will aid future discussion.

“We appreciate the input from the Fordham Institute on Ohio’s school report cards,” Brittany Halpin, Associate Director for Media Relations, wrote in an email to the Gazette. “As the state and our educators gather to develop Ohio’s strategic plan for education, this report adds to the ongoing discussions surrounding our school accountability system.”

By Scott Halasz

shalasz@aimmediamidwest.com

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507. Staff writer Anna Bolton contributed to this story.

Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507. Staff writer Anna Bolton contributed to this story.