Marietta board weighs state grades

Although state letter grades were issued for school districts more than a week ago, the topic dominated discussion at the first meeting of the Marietta City Schools board of education since the controversial ratings came out.

Superintendent Will Hampton put the topic at the head of his report to the board Monday night.

The letter grades in the six categories released to the public by the Ohio Department of Education were an improvement over last year but still stung administrators and board members. The district was dealt three Ds, two Cs and an F.

“We’re working through the numbers and grades. It’s much, much more complicated” than a simple letter grade, Hampton told the board. “It’s layers and layers of numbers that come to a single letter grade, and that’s sometimes misunderstood.”

The nature of how the state computes data it receives from school districts to arrive at the letter grades has been a headache about which all the districts in Washington County have complained.

Additionally, the state periodically changes the tests on which the grades are substantially based while moving the benchmarks attributed to each grade. Board member Russ Garrison said he approaches the letter grades with caution.

“Is it changing performance, or is it the changing tests from year to year?” he said. “I am reluctant to brag or wring my hands.”

Hampton noted that only 12 schools in the entire state met the “gifted” indicators. The obscurity of the process by which the state calculates the marks makes it an enormous challenge for schools to figure out how to improve, he said.

Board member Zane Lazer expressed frustration with the system.

“These measures obfuscate, like a cloud,” he said. “Speaking as a community member or a parent, of course I want the district to get an A, but the correlation between poverty and the letter grade is one-to-one. I just get frustrated with the worthlessness of that data.”

Board member Roger Bartunek suggested that the district should start issuing its own data in response to the annual state ratings.

“Locally, we need to focus on real comparisons, to show the public what the real results are,” he said. “We have to work harder to make that information more readily available to the public.”

Lazer added to the idea.

“We should have a short list of tests applied to elementary, middle and high school, create a grid so we can see it, and when this report card comes out, anyone who reads it can know how unscientific or quasi-scientific these letter grades are,” he said. “We can let parents and the community know annually how we do on these self-selected measures.”