Lawmakers Mulling Possible Change To State School Report Cards

Sep 21, 2017

The bad grades for many school districts latest round of report cards has upset some parents and school officials. And now they’ve angered a state lawmaker who says he’s writing a bill to change the report cards. 

The report cards show how schools are doing in areas such as test scores, elementary school literacy, progress, graduation rates, and preparedness for what comes after high school.  This time, traditional public schools saw a slight improvement overall in the performance index, which measures individual student achievement.

But most districts still got Cs. And just under 4% of traditional public school districts got As for how their students scored on 26 state tests. More than 80% got Fs in that category.

State school superintendent Paolo DeMaria says report cards show important data, but that the letter grades aren’t the only factor that determines good schools.

“There are lots of things that aren’t measured on the report card – things like art programs, music programs, the school climate, cohesiveness among staff,” said DeMaria.

But the report cards were disappointing to many districts, including where Republican Rep. Mike Duffey lives in Worthington. That district got some of its lowest grades since 2012.

That’s when state lawmakers, including Duffey, voted to replace labels such as “continuous improvement” and “academic watch” with letter grades. On Facebook Duffey called the report cards “utter trash” and “fake news” – because he says they seem to show only that more diverse districts are scoring lower grades.

“Frankly, in my opinion, it’s disrespectful to minorities and it’s borderline racist in the way that it goes about it because it is going to reflect the nature of the district, the socio-economic diversity. It’s not going to show your potential to learn.”

Duffey says he’ll draft legislation to scrap the A-F grading system he once supported, saying it doesn’t result in fair comparisons among districts. He says the cards would still show data on subgroups and student growth, but not an overall letter grade.

House Education Committee chair Andrew Brenner of Powell says the report cards are important, but he’s open to moving away from overall letter grades too.

“The school district is different than a student getting a letter grade on a test or something. If a school district is getting Fs on everything, you know, they need to see something where they're showing progress and whether they're improving and they need to focus on the positives and look to see where the negatives are to try to improve those negatives. And if they're stuck on the report card letter grade they may not be doing any of the underlying corrections.”

Brenner is a non-voting member of the state board of education along with Senate Education Committee chair Peggy Lehner of Kettering. Lehner says she feels improvements could be made, but she says the letter grades aren’t the real problem with the report cards.

“If you look deep down at them, you’re going to find that there’s an increase in poverty in those school districts. And it’s being reflected in some of those scores.”

The Ohio Education Policy Institute’s Howard Fleeter analyzes report card data for Ohio’s traditional public school districts.  Fleeter says the highest performing schools have double the median income of the lowest performing districts. And those that got Fs have, on average, nearly 7 times as many economically disadvantaged students as the districts that got As do. Fleeter says for the past two decades, report cards have shown that districts with higher scores have fewer low-income kids, who have a set of needs their higher-income peers don’t face.

“I don’t want people to draw the conclusion that says, low-income kids can’t learn. Districts or schools  that have low-income kids are bad schools – they’re not doing their job.’ It’s more challenging. It’s more difficult. I think we need to know this information.”

Fleeter and other advocates for schools have said investing state dollars in preschool and intervention specialists can help lower-income kids catch up to their more economically advantaged peers.

By the way, most of the state’s 276 charter schools got either Ds or Fs in their performance index scores. A spokesman for the pro-charter study group the Fordham Institute says most charters are in urban areas, and have the same challenges the traditional schools in those areas do.