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Ohio releases letter grades for schools

A-F system like one for students

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The state released its overhauled school report cards on Thursday, with a whole new grading system that looks a lot like what students bring home to their parents.

The new report cards include an A to F system and measure different things than the previous system. This year is a transition year for the new report cards, and only some measured components were reported.

There is no overall grade for schools or districts this year and won't be until 2015, making broad statements about a school's performance impossible.

So just as students get an A through F for science or math, schools this year received nine grades, instead of a catch-all designation such as excellent or academic emergency that the old system used.

Like other big-city Ohio school districts, Toledo Public Schools failed multiple areas of Ohio's annual school report cards. Out of nine letter grades school districts received, the 23,000-student TPS got five F’s, a D, a B, and two A’s.

No Ohio school district got all A’s or all F’s.

Columbus Schools fared worse than TPS, receiving four F’s, three D’s and two C’s.

The public school system in Cleveland fared slightly worse than Columbus, receiving six F’s, one D and two C’s. Cincinnati City Schools received six F’s, two C’s, and one D.

Results like that led some educators to point to the long established link between academic performance and income.

The new system was part of Ohio's request for a waiver from No Child Left Behind Act requirements. State education officials called that old system vague, and the new system easier to understand.

“Our goal is to create transparency for our customers,” state school Superintendent Dick Ross said,“Ohio's taxpayers and moms and dads.”

Many school officials, however, called the new system confusing and more difficult to explain than the old system. For example, TPS students actually scored higher overall on tests than a year ago, which is hard to square with the numerous low grades on the report card, district officials said.

9 measures

There are up to nine measures this year for each school and district, and ultimately there will be 18 total measures by 2016. Schools and districts receive a letter grade for each measure.

State officials said under the old system, some schools or districts' real results were hidden.

For instance, Mr. Ross said, there were districts that would be rated excellent with distinction, the top grade, but special education students could be struggling. The new system gives a more accurate picture, gives more information, and is also more rigorous, Ohio Department of Education officials said.

Though many districts' grades will likely drop under the new system, Mr. Ross said the report cards are not intended to be a “gotcha.”

Among the measures used this year include a performance index, which is a weighted average of a school or district's students' scores. TPS received a D in that area.

‘Value added’

The district performed worse in the overall ranking for “value added,” a measurement that tries to show how much students improved academically in a year. TPS got an F in that category, though the district scored highly in some more specific value-added components, such as for gifted, special education, and low performing students, where the district got a B and two A’s.

Another bright spot on the district's report card was that middle school students' performances grew faster than elementary students, a hint that the move to K8 buildings may be working, said Jim Gault, TPS chief academic officer. He and TPS Superintendent Romules Durant said that data show targeted efforts the district has undertaken to improve the performance in high poverty areas and increase enrichment activities worked, and now TPS must expand those successful techniques district-wide.

But TPS staff expressed dismay and confusion over some elements of the report card, such as a new category meant to determine how well districts closed the achievement gap with student subgroups. The district lost points, for example, because it missed attendance targets for disabled students by less than a percentage point.

Washington Local Superintendent Patrick Hickey also took umbrage with the the gap closing measure, called annual measurable objectives. He said it was difficult to explain, and that the district's school board had trouble comprehending it. His biggest concern was that schools no longer were given credit for making gains in subgroups, a concept called safe harbor under yearly progress.

Washington Local had its highest performance index score ever, but its report card was mixed, with two A’s, three B’s, two C’s, a D, and an F. That failing grade was in annual measurable objectives.



Jarring results

“We've completely flip-flopped [on the measure],” Mr. Hickey said, “with the same teachers, the same kids, the same work ethic.”

While some results may be jarring, educators did say the more expansive data could prove useful.

Greg Smith, superintendent for the Maumee district, said low scores in value added for disabled students will prompt further analysis by his staff, despite overall high marks for the district.

“Obviously, the value added is very disappointing,” he said. “We are going to throw all the resources we can at it and get it solved.”

Ottawa Hills Local Schools Superintendent Kevin Miller said he was pleased the small district received A grades in seven categories. It didn't have enough students to be graded in one category.

“We have a B in one category and that is gifted students value-added,” Mr. Miller said. “That means they met valued added, meaning one year of academic growth.”

The district as a whole “exceeded value added,” Mr. Miller said. If the state had given overall grades to districts, Ottawa Hills would be an A, Mr. Miller said.

“We would have to be an A,” he said. “ I am looking at out of eight letters grades, seven are As and one is a B. That is pretty pleasing. There is no overall letter grade given but people in their heads will come to see that clearly that would be the case.”

In past years, Ottawa Hills High School has battled with Solon High School in Solon for the distinction of the top-rated public high school when comparing the previous rating system and the past performance index score.

Such comparisons are now more difficult to make, Mr. Miller said.

“There are not overall [grades] for school buildings,” he said. “ I don't think parents will be disappointed. The point in setting up this system is everyone gets the A through F system because we have been beholden to it our whole lives.”

Anthony Wayne Local School Superintendent Jim Fritz said he too was happy with the district's performance.

It received three A’s, three B’s, two C’s, and one D.

“If you compared them to the old system, we would have been ‘excellent with distinction,' ” Mr. Fritz said.

“We have the second-highest performance index score of the schools” in Lucas, Wood, Ottawa and Fulton counties, he said. “We had a 107.5 and Ottawa Hills was at a 110.”

Sylvania grades

The Sylvania School District received four A’s, for standards met, overall value added, overall gifted value added, and lowest 20 percent value added; four B’s in performance index, disabled value added, four year graduate rate, and five-year graduate rate; and a D in gap closing.

Superintendent Brad Rieger and Adam Fineske, executive director for curriculum and assessment, attributed the low annual measurable objectives score to the broad spectrum of children with special needs being measured on the same level.

“When you have a wide spectrum of kids at different levels, some that have mild to profound disabilities that are in wheelchairs and cannot speak, putting them at the same level and having them hit that level is challenging,” Mr. Fineske said.

Perrysburg Schools received five A and four B grades. The district received top grades for standards met and overall value added. The district also got A’s for value added of students with disabilities, and for its four-year graduation rate and five-year graduation rate. The four-year rate was 97.3, which was second best in Wood County to North Baltimore.

Perrysburg received a B for its performance index, and for value added scores for gifted students, value added scores for its lowest performers, and for an element that measures achievement gap improvements, similar to the old adequately yearly progress measurement.

Staff writers Matt Thompson and Natalie Trusso Cafarello contributed to this report.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.

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