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Should school districts get an A-F grade? State report card overhaul debated

By PATRICK O’DONNELL • Apr 19, 2018 at 3:00 PM

COLUMBUS (TNS) — The state’s report cards are coming under fire on two fronts this spring, which could wipe out their A-F grades and force the state to rate schools and districts very differently.

A state school board panel and a new bill in the Ohio House are both seeking to make major changes to the report cards, which were just redesigned in 2013 and are still being phased in.

“Nobody likes the current Ohio school district report card,” state Rep. Mike Duffey told the House Education Committee last week as he presented details of the bill, House Bill 591.

“Why do we have a report card that's not trusted?” asked Duffey, a Republican from the Columbus suburb of Worthington.

Among Duffey's major complaints:

• That some of the 14 graded areas on the report cards like “gap closing” and “K-3 literacy” are either counter-intuitive or just too hard for parents to understand.

• That measures of student growth — how much students learn in a year — should matter more.

• At the same time, Duffey said, educators don't trust how “value-added,” Ohio's main growth measure, is calculated.

• That report card ratings almost always make poor districts look bad, compared to affluent ones.

• That A-F grades lead to a punitive approach to schools and should be dropped.

“We should move away from the winners and losers approach to the report card,” Duffey told the education committee last week.

His bill would create a new report card with no A-F grades because they “produce a particularly visceral emotional response from parents,” Duffey said, that can doom tax votes for schools, even when a school is doing well.

“Sometimes an F is representative just of the demographics of the district,” he said.

He envisions a report card that compares districts to those with similar demographics, has easy-to-understand measures, and that also highlight special course offerings or extracurricular activities schools offer.

See his early “back of the napkin” look at how report cards could change above.

See his full PowerPoint presentation to the Education Committee below.

Duffey’s complaints mirror many of the concerns voiced by state school board members, including Lisa Woods of Medina, who called for a board review earlier this year. Though Duffey's bill was unveiled last week, the board panel is still reviewing concerns and will have a recommendation in June.

The board panel has heard from Duffey and looked at “achievement,” “gap closing," and “K-3 literacy” grades so far and will look at progress and growth on April 30.

In addition, board member Kara Morgan wants to call off plans to give districts and schools a single, overall grade on report cards this fall. The state used to issue overall ratings, but put those on hold in when the new report cards and new state tests started. It has been instead giving 14 different A-F grades on parts of a school's performance.

Though overall grades are required to return this fall under law, Morgan wants the board to ask the state legislature for a delay. She'll be working with the panel on that resolution.

Tom Gunlock, the former state board president who oversaw much of the report card re-design before its 2013 launch, said he has no issues with dropping an overall grade.

“I never wanted the overall grade in the first place,” Gunlock said, but the legislature required it.

But he is bothered by complaints low grades on the 14 graded measures today, particularly by superintendents who downplay and dismiss them to families. The report cards, he said, are designed to identify areas where districts fall short, so they can improve on them.

“What I thought everyone wanted was higher expectations and better results,” he said.

Instead, Gunlock said, some school officials don’t want to face awkward questions and accountability for areas where they fall short.

“Education has nothing to do with educating kids,” he said. “It’s all about power and money for adults.”

Others, including the Fordham Institute, worry that higher expectations of the new tests will give so many districts an overall D or F this fall — as many as 40 percent — making it impossible for parents in some areas to distinguish between good schools and bad ones.

“It may even lead to ratings for suburban schools that may not be believable to many middle-class families,” Fordham's Aaron Churchill wrote in the fall. “This could lead to uproar and mistrust over the report cards themselves, rather than being seen as productive, reliable tools that help to inform decision making.”

Fordham wants to keep overall grades and reduce the other graded areas from 14 to five, but wants one major change: Making measures of student progress count far more toward an overall grade than achievement scores.

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