School report cards out Thursday; change from letter grade to star system

Tweaks to the formula used to rate local schools will also weight some achievements more than previous years.

For the first time in two years, school districts will receive a rating when state report cards are released Thursday, but it will look different than years past — the Ohio legislature changed the school report card rating system from A-F grades to a 1-5 stars system.

The last time schools were given a grade was the 2018-2019 school year. The state said it would be unfair to schools to grade them in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years amid COVID disruptions.

Schools still will be evaluated on how well their students are doing on state tests, reading proficiency in kindergarten through third grade, graduation rates, how students are progressing year over year, how well schools are able to close gaps for underprivileged students such as English language learners or disabled students, and how ready a student is to enter the workforce, college or the military after graduation.

But the formula to determine schools’ success will change, as the new equation puts more weight on year-over-year progress and gap closing, which could help many high-poverty districts like Dayton Public, which generally serve more nonwhite, disabled or economically disadvantaged students than suburban districts.

According to the new law, raw student achievement and year-over-year progress must be given the same weight, but achievement will weigh twice as much as gap closing, graduation and early literacy, which are weighted equally.

A component of college, career and military readiness is expected to be incorporated into the formula beginning in 2024, and will be given the same weight as gap closing, graduation and early literacy.

In years past, Oakwood City Schools, the highest-income district locally, has had the best report card scores, while Dayton Public Schools and Trotwood-Madison City Schools, two of the lowest-income districts, have been at the bottom. It’s not clear if the new report card will follow the same trends.

Research has often shown the wealth-performance connection, as those students who have more support, stability and resources at home struggle less on average than those who battle poverty-related issues such as hunger and homelessness.

Some analysts say the report card change may help give parents a better understanding of how schools are doing compared to the old system, especially since grades are inflated for many students. Instead of a “C” being average, it’s considered below average by many families.

“You come home with a C and the parents are freaking out,” said Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director for the Fordham Institute, an education think tank. “And the ‘C’ in our grading system was like, hey, you’re doing okay.”

There have long been arguments over how well the report cards evaluate schools, with some school districts who do very well on report cards expressing as much dissatisfaction as the schools who grade poorly.

Will Schwartz, legislative director for the Ohio School Boards Association, noted while many schools feel the report cards give context to how the school is serving the community’s children, there’s more there than just the report cards.

That’s because the report cards focus on assessments and what the district has already done, and not how the district plans to make improvements in the future.

“I think if you’re going ask school leaders, does the report card provide value to the public, parents, students and others? I think unequivocally they’ll say yes, but it’s only one element of the story,” Schwartz said. “It provides a snapshot of that school district at that point in time.”

Schwartz said the new calculations are an improvement over the past, but there are still school benefits that aren’t being weighted on a school report card, such as social-emotional learning, life skills and school activities outside of the classroom.

“Let’s dig deeper and find that fuller picture,” Schwartz said.

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