State school report cards: Group wants Ohio to dump A-F letter grades

The push to change Ohio’s state report card system for schools continued to get louder this week, as a work group of state school board members and education advocates released their recommended changes.

After months of meetings, the group on Tuesday recommended eliminating all A-F letter grades and replacing them with language like “meets standards” or “exceeds standards.” They recommended eliminating K-3 Literacy and “indicators met” as graded measures, and they called for further study on the “value-added” system that the state uses to measure student and school growth.

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A full state board resolution on the recommendations was introduced Tuesday, then tabled for future consideration.

Most of the changes the work group recommended would require approval from the state legislature, and several of them are in line with State Rep. Mike Duffey’s House Bill 591 on the same topic, which had hearings this spring, but did not advance for a vote.

Since that bill did not pass, schools and districts will, for the first time in years, receive overall letter grades on the 2017-18 report card that is released in September.

“I think they’re going to be very disappointed with those grades, and then I think there will be a renewed urgency to reform the report card,” Duffey said. “I wanted a moratorium on the overall letter grade, and that just didn’t happen (in time).”

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Duffey, who communicated with this work group during its study, said Tuesday that the group’s recommendations need to be more specific and need to consider how pieces of the report card work together.

Duffey, R-Worthington, also expressed concerns over timing. The state board does not meet in August, and the work group planned to get together again in October, so they could review the 2017-18 report card data due to come out in September.

But Duffey said his bill is likely to have more hearings before the House Education Committee in September, potentially limiting influence from the work group if they don’t meet until October.

Nancy Hollister, state school board vice president and chair of the report card work group, said the recommendations were presented to the state board Tuesday to start a discussion, with hopes that the board would make changes or additions before settling on a document to forward to the legislature. Hollister said getting this work done could “set the table” for the state board to have key input with the new governor and reconstituted legislature that will be elected in November.

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Other recommendations from the work group included giving students more ways to show they are “Prepared for Success” in report card terms, and making the front page of a school or district’s report card clearer for parents.

Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy at the Fordham Institute, supported the moves to eliminate the “indicators met” grade and rename the third-grade reading measure to better reflect its focus.

“But the continued focus on getting rid of A-to-F grades appears to have everything to do with school districts simply not liking the information those grades give to families and the community,” Aldis said.

Chris Woolard, senior executive director for accountability at the Ohio Department of Education, said the current report card can be complicated because some tests and measures are required by federal law, some by state law, and others because ODE considers them best practice.

Woolard said it is a challenge to create a report card that is clear enough on key issues for parents, while also giving deep data to educators who need that detail. Hollister said the answer to to keep all of that data in the report card, but not to attach letter grades on data that many people may not need or understand.

State school board member Charlotte McGuire, who represents Montgomery, Butler and other counties, said the state should include focus groups of parents and business leaders in the process of reworking the report card.

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“If they don’t understand how it applies to them and their community, then it doesn’t work,” McGuire said.

Woolard said the report card gives schools the data to begin their improvement process, and is designed for equity – to shine a light on whether subgroups by race, socioeconomics and disability are succeeding.

Many educators question the validity and value of the tests that the report card is largely based on. While the state backs the validity of the tests, Woolard encouraged people to use the report card as just one piece of data to be considered alongside local classroom data that is collected more frequently.

Duffey has concerns about the fairness of the existing report card, saying some measures are prejudicial, and not conducive to a level playing field.

“When you’re taking scores from multiple components and some are highly correlated to socioeconomic status, poverty status, racial status, it will always put some districts at a disadvantage against others,” Duffey said.

State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said when talking about an unlevel playing field, educators have to be careful not to fall into the line of thinking that because of that, some kids just can’t learn.

“Others in their wisdom years ago felt (report card accountability) wasn’t strong enough,” Hollister said. “Now we’ve come full circle and people feel it’s punitive if you get an F or a D. … That’s going to be an ongoing point of debate. This group feels very strongly that we don’t need something that strident. But that’s a recommendation for the legislature.”

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