Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018
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Report calls for Ohio's annual school report cards to change


Eisha Hearn, sings a song with the children as she leads them from the bus back to their classroom in April of 2016. A recently released research paper criticizes the methodology used for Ohio's school report cards.

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A Columbus-based education research and advocacy group is calling for Ohio’s annual school report cards to be overhauled.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute on Thursday released a paper titled “Back to the Basics: A plan to simplify and balance Ohio’s school report cards.” The report criticizes the measurement tools as being “unnecessarily complex” and contends “the ratings themselves reflect too strongly the backgrounds of students rather than the effectiveness of their schools.”

It’s a stance that many Toledo-area educators agree with, though their recommendations on how to improve the ratings may differ.

“I believe that the state report cards are very complex, so anything that makes them a little simpler, understandable, and judges school districts in a more equitable fashion, that makes sense,” said Jim Gault, Toledo Public Schools chief academic officer. “We’re excited that people are looking at this issue.”

This year’s report card, released in September by the Ohio Department of Education, again handed TPS a failing grade in achievement. That’s the category that measures the number of students who pass state tests and how well they perform on them. 

Districts and schools are graded on six components — achievement, progress, gap closing, graduation rate, K-3 literacy, and preparation for success.

TPS officials have said the state’s report card is overly broad and doesn’t represent fairly the progress of Toledo and the state’s other urban districts, which also tend to receive poor marks.

“Nationally, I think you see a correlation between poverty and achievement,” Mr. Gault said.

Superintendent Romules Durant and the TPS board this year created their own report card and data dashboard that they say provides the community more context for student achievement.

Perrysburg Superintendent Tom Hosler echoed the sentiment that the report cards are too complex yet don’t paint a full picture of any district. He said they no longer are an effective way to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of schools to parents and community members.

“I think we need to move away from just having one test on one day define how a school does on its report card,” he said. “I think there are ways that we can look at other data points that are important.”

He acknowledged that urban districts like TPS have different challenges than more affluent districts like Perrysburg and said that perhaps it’s time to design a report card specifically for the state’s urban schools.

Aaron Churchill, the Ohio research director for the Fordham Institute and the paper’s author, offered four key recommendations to make the report cards more streamlined, user-friendly, and fair:

• Reduce the number of A through F grades. The report cards now include 14 letter grades in various categories, with an additional overall rating scheduled to be included next year.

• Revamp the “gap closing” category and rename it “equity.”

• Create an overall rating formula that balances status and growth measures. This should create a more even playing field for schools enrolling a more diverse student body, the report argues.

• Report a wide range of data about each district and school, but refrain from dumping it all into the report card.

Many of the paper’s suggestions would require legislative action, though some could be handled by the state board of education.

Mr. Hosler said he is optimistic the report cards will be improved in the future because many stakeholders consider the measure to be ineffective. 

“I think what we have to do is begin to get the charter schools, the traditional schools, the legislature, the Ohio Department of Education, and the parents, we have to get to the table and carve out a system that makes more sense,” he said.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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