Report Card Problems Still Exist, SE Ohio Educators Say

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Educators throughout southeastern Ohio say accuracy problems in measuring student achievement still persist with the way the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) grades school districts.

ODE officials first rolled out the “report card” system for school districts in 2013, grading school districts in categories such as “graduation rate” and “K-3 Literacy” with traditional letter grades “A” through “F.” ODE released this year’s report cards on Sept. 14.

According an analysis of  data released by the ODE, 90 percent of school districts in Ohio received a “D” or “F” in the “Indicators Met” category, which measures how many students overall in a district pass yearly standardized tests. This is up from last year, when 85 percent of school districts had failing grades in that category.

“When you see the state averages are that low, the question I have ‘is that really a good indicator of how we’re doing as a state?’ I’m not sure it is,” said Scot Gheen, superintendent at Meigs Local School District.

School districts in southeastern Ohio were some of the districts that fared the worst in the state this year.

All school districts in Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Perry, Pike, Vinton and Washington counties received an “F” on indicators met.

Southeastern Ohio school districts also struggled to get passing grades in categories such as “Prepared for Success,” which measures student readiness after graduation for college or a trade industry.

Many educators in southeastern Ohio are ignoring the letter grades altogether as indicators of how well their district is doing.

“We use a lot of the data that comes from the report card to see where we can improve. But to look at the letter grade itself? There’s not a lot of value in that,” Doug Baldwin, superintendent of Wolf Creek Local Schools, said.

Baldwin instead uses data given about student achievement in specific grade levels and among specific groups of student (such as “gifted” students) and compares the data to similar school districts in the region. Among administrators in southeastern Ohio, this is becoming a common practice.

Teachers like Bill Van Pelt, president of the Southeastern Ohio Education Association, also see a socio-economic gap with how many funding goes to each student in that districts with more resources and wealth do better on the report cards compared to poorer, more rural districts in southeastern Ohio.

“If the state wants to slap a label on school districts, then every school district should be at a level playing field when we’re talking about the amount of money the school districts are receiving from the states,” Van Pelt said. “You can’t slap labels on southeastern Ohio when you’re not getting as much money per student. That’s just not fair.”

Van Pelt points to the DeRolph v. Ohio decision from 1997, an Ohio Supreme court case that ruled the state’s way of public education funding using local property tax and money from the state was unconstitutional.

Problems still persist with school district funding which is seen in the grade gap on district report cards, Van Pelt said.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich proposed a new formula to fund public schools in his budget plan back in February, with lawmakers and advocates unsure about the potential success of the plan.

Kasich’s proposal would be based on the “state share index,” which uses property values and and income levels of a school district to determine how much funding the state gives a school district.

“There’s a definite correlation between wealth and poverty,” Ohio State Board District 9 Representative Stephanie Dodds, said. “It was almost perfectly defined by the region of how poorly a district was performing with our report card.”

Solutions on how to fix the accuracy of these report cards remain elusive, but conversations are happening with the 19-member Ohio State Board of Education, Dodds said.

“This ‘A-F’ system was something that was dreamed up by people who aren’t educators,” Dodds said. “So I think that’s the number one thing that has to happen, that as we have these conversations in committee and with the General Assembly that we need to engage the stakeholders.”

This is also the last year “Safe Harbor” guidance is in effect, which protects school districts failing on these report cards from consequences such as district restructuring.

But for administrators like Wolf Creek Local Schools Superintendent Doug Baldwin, avoiding “Safe Harbor” consequences isn’t the highest priority.

“We’re doing what we have to do through the state of Ohio, but we’re also doing what’s best for kids,” Baldwin said. “And if it’s a matter of getting a good grade on a report card and doing what’s best for kids, we’re going to do what’s best for the child. That’s what’s most important.”

ODE officials will release school districts’ overall grades for the first time with next year’s set of report cards. Current and past Ohio school district report card data can be accessed here.