Poor School Report Cards Reflect Changes in Testing

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by Michelle Faust

The Ohio Department of Education on Thursday released report cards evaluating all of the state’s schools. They show nearly 60 percent of schools received a D or F grade for achievement.

According to the new state report cards, most schools in Ohio are mediocre or failing.  Less than 15 percent received an A or B grade. 

Peggy Lehner, Chair of the Ohio Senate Education Committee explains one reason districts come out so poorly on the reports.

"The problem is largely created by the fact that we have a more rigorous test, we have more rigorous standards, and we have higher cut scores. Those three things together are creating this situation," says Lehner.

The state has changed the tests it uses to assess students, schools, and districts 3 times in the past 3 years, making the test scores difficult to compare from one year to the next.

Melissa Cropper, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, echoes what many organizations throughout the state are saying—the school report cards list letter grades, but provide little context.

"I don’t think it tells the true story of what’s happening in our districts. We need to work on finding a way to tell the true story of what’s happening in those districts. So, I would just encourage people, urge people to not put too much stock in what that grade card tells them," Cropper says.

Cropper thinks parents should look at their kids, their schools, and whether they’re comfortable with their learning. She points to a school she admires in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District that provides instruction half the day in English and the other half in Spanish. Luis Muñoz Marín Dual Language Academy got a C and a D on certain components to the report card, but mostly Fs.

"What these test scores are revealing certainly doesn’t match what you see going on in these classrooms and the incredible amount of learning that’s going on in these classrooms. And there’s something wrong with that. There’s just something wrong with that," says Cropper.

She says programs like the one at Muñoz Marín School should be supported, not judged against a suburban school with lower rates of poverty.

But even representatives in suburban districts say they’re being unfairly judged using the latest measures.  At a recent meeting of the Westerville City School District Board of Education, its President Richard Bird did not mince words when he expressed his opinion of the report card.

"If this were my outsourced service provider, as a corporate leader, that was doing performance and quality measures for me, I would fire them all. This is absolutely insane. We have a State Superintendent who says we moved the bar and we knew that we were going to fail. That is nuts!" says Bird.

Bird’s frustration reflects his role as a parent, and says graduation standards have changed each year his teenage daughter has been in high school.  Westerville’s grades may be lower than the district prefers, but with a C for achievement and a B for its graduation rate, they’re better off than many other districts.

Last year, the state gave schools ‘safe harbor’—meaning these scores won’t count against them.

That ‘safe harbor’ provision doesn’t include Lorain City Schools. With five Fs and a D, Lorain faces being taken over by the state because it’s under the watch of an Academic Distress Commission. 

"They indicate that we are now eligible for a CEO and that’s a really difficult consequence to accept," says district spokesperson Erin Gadd.

According to assessments within the district, students are improving, even if the report cards say otherwise.  State Senator Peggy Lehner encourages schools to use the report cards to set goals for improvement, not as a cause for concern.

"It’s going to take a while for our students and our schools to adjust to these new standards. But rather than get all upset and worry and fret about the scores that are about to come out, just keep in mind, we’re trying to elevate the level of education our kids are getting in this state," says Lehner.

Many in the state education industry say they’ll get behind higher standards, but they’re asking regulators to keep a steady yard stick.

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