Ohio schools will be graded Thursday on everything from graduation rates for students who left two years ago to how much their very youngest students improved in reading.
But local and state education leaders cautioned this week that even with a broad swath of data, the state report card grades are just one piece of measuring whether schools are doing a good job.
State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria cited valuable data on the report card, but he acknowledged some grades a school receives are not a result of what teachers and principals are doing.
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“Any particular classroom is a unique collection of … students who come to the table with their own blessings and challenges,” he said. “It’s misleading to look at the report card and jump to the conclusion that, look, because a grade is low, there must be something wrong with the system.”
DeMaria believes the state tests that form the basis of much of the report card are valid measures, and that “the vast majority of students” do fine with online testing – two claims that some local educators disagree with.
Springfield City Schools Superintendent Bob Hill said most people don’t look deeply enough at the report card data, and end up judging a school or teacher, when those educators may be helping students overcome “tremendous challenges.”
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“If the student populations are not similar – at least in the things that we know correlate with test scores, like percent of students in poverty, percent of students who are English language learners, percent of students with disabilities, and student mobility – then comparing report cards will always be extremely misleading,” Hill said.
The report cards that come out Thursday are largely based on state exams that students took in spring 2017. Schools and districts will not receive an overall letter grade on this year’s report card.
Instead, they will get six component grades measuring the following: overall test achievement, year-over-year test progress, kindergarten-to-third-grade literacy improvement, graduation rates, gap closing between certain demographic groups of students, and a “prepared for success” measure that tracks things like honors diplomas, college entrance test scores and industry credentials.
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Lani Wildow, director of curriculum and instruction at Fairfield City Schools, acknowledged all those different angles on the data and said Fairfield pays particular attention to the year-over-year progress measures. But she said that’s still a limited tool.
“There is so much more to Fairfield than its report card,” Wildow said. “We have a tremendously successful music program and athletic program along with course offerings you do not see in every high school – Mandarin, Forensics, and Futuristic Literature to name a few. Our goal is to create an atmosphere where each and every child feels safe, valued and successful – something the state report card does not measure.”
Dayton Public School Superintendent Rhonda Corr said even though the state report card doesn’t paint a perfect picture of her district, DPS does carefully analyze the data all the way down to the individual teacher and student level.
“Our focus is a balance of the achievement and growth (measures),” Corr said. “We want our children performing at grade level and beyond, but we’re also looking for that growth because we know that many of our children are already behind.”
When at-risk students are behind, encouraging them to come to school – and actually being able to get them there – may be more important than a test score.
“You can’t test the love that a teacher has for a child based on a once-a-year state assessment,” Corr said. “Having adults who care for you when you walk in the building, making sure the quality of work going on in the classroom every day is engaging and consistent. Providing transportation … there’s no grade for bus arrival time.”
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DeMaria encouraged families to look beyond the school district-level basics, at least to their individual school’s scores. He said he focuses on performance index (the most detailed measure of state test performance) as well as student progress scores, which show whether there was improvement from year to year.
“(Progress) tells that other part of the story,” DeMaria said. “If absolute performance isn’t particularly high, does the value-added score show that great things are happening nonetheless in terms of helping students?”
But Springfield’s Hill pointed out that so much of what goes on in schools is not reflected in the report card, which focuses heavily on English and math, with a little bit of science and social studies mixed in.
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Hill said the benefits of Springfield’s elementary school music and fine arts program, computer science and robotics classes, five world languages, ROTC program, and counselors in every school are not reflected on the report card.
“Individual students’ experiences are determined by much more than how 80 percent of their classmates scored on a certain test,” Hill said. “Parents should look closely at the needs and aspirations of their own child, and view a school’s report card as just one of many, many factors to consider when evaluating a school.”
Oakwood scores higher on state tests than any school in the region, but Superintendent Kyle Ramey is not a fan of the report card and testing system. But he and DeMaria do agree on the best way to learn if a school is doing well.
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“If you want to know how things are in the classroom, you need to go visit,” Ramey said. “Talk to the teacher, talk to the principal, volunteer to serve lunch or do something. You can get a better picture of how things are in the classrooms and in the hallways and make a more informed decision.”