Monday, Sep 24, 2018
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Revamp Ohio's failing report cards


It is time to replace Ohio’s failing report cards with a simplified and streamlined grading system.


Ohio’s school report cards are supposed to help parents and other taxpayers get an objective look at the quality of their public school districts. But the report cards themselves are so complicated that they don’t give the public any real sense of how the schools are performing.

Late in 2017, a Columbus-based education research and advocacy group called on the state to revise the report cards.

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The Thomas B. Fordham Institute criticized Ohio’s system for being too complex and weighing “too strongly the backgrounds of students rather than the effectiveness of their schools.”

Researchers with the institute pointed out that for the report cards to be of any use to parents and taxpayers they needed to be streamlined, user-friendly, and fair — qualities that the current system lacks.

The Fordham Institute suggested a handful of specific fixes that would make Ohio’s report card system for schools better:

● Cut the categories for which schools are given letter grades. The report cards now include 14 letter grades in various categories, with an additional overall rating scheduled to be included next year.

● Improve and rename the category now called “cap closing.” The category should be called “equity,” the institute said.

● Revamp the overall rating system so that it reflects a balance of where the district stands now and how much it has improved. The institute said this formula would level the playing field and give a more fair grade to districts with big challenges, such as Toledo Public Schools and other urban districts with high rates of poverty and relatively low tax bases.

● Include information about a wide range of data about each district and school, but do not try to factor all those bits of data into a grade on the report card.

Predictably, school districts that have gotten failing grades on the state report card, including TPS, have blasted it as an unfair misrepresentation of their progress. TPS and other districts have resorted to creating their own report cards that they say provide better context and more accurate reflection of their achievement.

Of course it is good for school districts to present scores and other data to the community, but the point of a statewide report card system should be for the community to get uniform and objective information so they can compare districts fairly.

The General Assembly seems to be open to reforming its report cards as the state House Education and Career Readiness Committee is reviewing recommendations and considering a simplification of the report card system. They should make that simplification a priority and get the revisions to the entire General Assembly before state authorities contort another school year’s worth of data into the current reporting system.

Parents need a reliable tool to measure how their school districts are performing. Communities need those tools too to hold school districts and their officials accountable. It is time to replace Ohio’s failing report cards with a simplified and streamlined grading system.

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