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Deficiencies seen in state school report card

House approves a nearly $2 billion increase in school funding

Screen capture courtesy of The Ohio Channel Fort Frye Local Schools Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Starcher testifies before members of the Ohio House of Representatives this week.

By Janelle Patterson

Staff Reporter

“We wouldn’t do this in medicine, we wouldn’t do this in business, so why are we doing this in education?” asked Dr. Stephanie Starcher, Fort Frye Local Schools superintendent, as she explained deficiencies in the state’s present public school report card and school accountability system used for public school districts in Ohio.

She was testifying in favor of House Bill 200, a 151-page piece of legislation she helped to write, alongside State Rep. Don Jones, R, of Freeport, as she spoke before the Ohio House of Representatives Primary and Secondary Education Committee this week.

Jones is the Republican primary co-sponsor alongside Democrat State Rep. Phil Robinson of Solon.

Starcher is not only a past president of the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools (representing 116 school districts in Ohio) but is also the chairwoman of the Report Card Committee for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators which aided in writing the bill.

“For the past several years, teachers, administrators, parents, business owners and various elected officials have worked to advocate for changes to the state report card used for Ohio’s accountability system that allegedly measures the quality of schools,” Starcher explained in her testimony. “Many media outlets love the use of these letter grades to create a false sense of fear and urgency around the supposed failures of public schools, which has created a culture of mistrust toward educators. This, in turn, has pushed teachers and administrators away from the field.”

She challenged the legislators to be more honest in how the performance of students and thereby the performance of their instructors and the support staff who create the environment for learning are judged.

“If the purpose of the state report card system is to inform people about the academic success and challenges of our schools, then we need to force the hand of Ohioans to see more of the detailed information about a school’s performance rather than slap an easy letter grade label and overall grade rating on these school report cards,” she said.

In separate proponent testimony, Dr. Todd Nichols, superintendent of Cuyahoga Falls City School District in northern Ohio, thanked the legislators in committee for considering the bill.

He pointed out that the representation of different types of school districts was key to finding a more fair judge of school performance.

“It seems that we have reached a place where bipartisan leadership is truly interested in the contributions of practitioners like us,” said Nichols, he noted that the BASA report card committee makeup included rural, suburban and urban districts. “A phrase I often use in my leadership has been, ‘When making a decision, make every attempt to involve those who are most affected by that decision in the decision-making process.'”

Rep. Johnson questioned Starcher concerning a separate bill’s proposal before the Ohio Senate recommending instead of letter grades, a 1-5 star system.

“I don’t support the 1-5 system. I think it’s too simple,” she responded. “The report card is to try to inform schools of where they’re succeeding and where they’re struggling… The star system seems like it’s punitive, it’s what Trip Advisor uses to rate a hotel. What we’re trying to say is we have school systems in Ohio that are succeeding in some areas and are challenged in others and they need supports. We have to change the tone of making it so punitive and it’s about ‘Look, you guys are struggling in K-3 literacy and we need to get you the help and resources you need.'”

Rep. Jones, in reflection of the testimony and work preparing the legislation shared with the Times on Wednesday that after retiring from education and serving in the statehouse, he still cannot follow the math of the present state grading system.

“I cannot explain to someone, how we got some of our scores on our report card because the metrics are so convoluted that it can’t be explained,” said the veteran educator. “I had the company that does the metrics and figures out the scores for schools in my office in the last general assembly, I said, ‘you got 30 minutes to explain this to me, and they couldn’t do it.’…Should you have to have a degree in engineering to be able to figure out a school report card?”

Starcher also testified to how economically disadvantaged students, and other subsets including those impacted by the additional barriers of language, disability or race and ethnicity noted in the current system are weighted over and over again.

Marietta City Schools Superintendent Will Hampton and Board of Education President Russ Garrison concurred recently with their own examples.

“The example between Putnam and Washington was so dramatic for me,” Garrison said. “Because Putnam got an A and Washington got an F, and in the economically disadvantaged and the non-economically disadvantaged (grading metric) Washington did better on both, but they got an F because they had 70 percent economically disadvantaged (students) versus the 35 percent (of Putnam’s student population).”

According to the Ohio Department of Education, Marietta City Schools has 1,247 economically disadvantaged students enrolled, approximately 51.9 percent of the total student population. In the past five years, that number has never dropped below 1,200.

Fort Frye Local Schools by the same documentation has 425 economically disadvantaged students, but being a more rural and smaller district that equates to approximately 45.3 percent of the student population.

Frontier Local Schools are noted by ODE as having 240 economically disadvantaged students enrolled, 43.2 percent of the student population.

Warren Local Schools are noted as having a lower percentage than the aforementioned districts; 787 students noted in the economically disadvantaged category, 39.5 percent of the student population.

Wolf Creek Local Schools have a documented 192 economically disadvantaged students, with the lowest percentage of the student body in the county at 32.4 percent.

In testimony, Starcher noted opponents of the legislation might argue the rating changes would lower standards and leave students behind.

“First of all, if anyone thinks that allowing growth or achievement instead of just one measure to be a part of an accountability component will result in any child being left behind, then these individuals truly do not understand learning,” she testified. “The growth should be recognized and celebrated because our kids do not come to us on level playing fields.”

Hampton and other Marietta administrators and teachers have similarly expressed this challenge in the March 26 and March 27-28 editions of the Times, with articles featuring how an expansion of kindergarten, transitional kindergarten and preschool offerings are expanding to prepare students to learn with confidence at the youngest levels.

PROPOSED BILL

What is proposed, as written by the legislators and the BASA report card committee is a total reform of how the performance of schools is rated.

“It eliminates A through F and goes to the six designations,” explained Jones.

The designations are in order:

¯ Significantly exceeds expectations;

¯ Exceeds expectations;

¯ Meets expectations;

¯ Significantly approaching expectations;

¯ Moderately approaching expectations;

¯ In need of support.

“We eliminate the overall grade for a district,” he continued, noting that the removal forces a more accurate depiction of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the performance of the school districts.

“And we revamped the K-3 reading scoring so that we actually would know how many kids are passing that test, not just how many aren’t on track, because most people don’t even know what it means to be on track,” he added.

Starcher also weighed in on the scoring during testimony.

“The most straightforward way to share information about literacy by the end of the third grade is to report the percentage of students who have met Ohio’s third-grade guarantee,” she said.

Starcher further explained that the tracking measurement criticized by opponents for not measuring a student unless they have been enrolled for the four years of school leading up to a third-grade final literacy test is akin to expecting to survive a deadly disease, without following doctor-prescribed treatment.

“Six years ago, I underwent treatments for cancer at the James Cancer Center. I asked my doctor if I was going to be OK. She said, as long as I completed the most aggressive path of treatments, then I should be just fine,” Starcher shared in the Ohio Statehouse. “I would not hold my doctor accountable for my pathway to recovery and to meeting that goal if I did not fully participate in all phases of my treatment. Similarly, how do we hold a school system accountable for some of these measures like the third-grade literacy component when a child shows up on our doorstep for the first time at the beginning of the third-grade year?”

Jones also noted that the proposed bill eliminates a component called “Prepared for Success.”

“I think 80 percent of our schools had a D or an F, which is terrible,” he said.

He concluded that the bill proposed could be easier for families, parents and potential home buyers to understand and read.

“Nobody is opposed to accountability, we just have to make sure that we’re being fair when we’re being accountable,” he said.

The legislator noted that if the bill is able to progress out of committee and be passed by the Ohio House in the coming months, it could be in front of the Ohio Senate, governor, and implemented in time to begin afresh in the 2021-2022 school year.

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

At a glance:

• The Ohio House approved a state budget that includes a nearly $2 billion increase in school funding, with most public school districts expected to receive more funding over the next six years. The budget now heads to the Ohio Senate.

¯• The Ohio House held a third testimony hearing in its Primary and Secondary Education Committee this week concerning a proposed overhaul of the state’s public school report card and school accountability system through House Bill 200.

Note: A typographical error appeared in the Thursday edition of the Times. The proposed earned income tax for Marietta City Schools if passed, would NOT draw from social security payments, pensions, capital gains, IRA withdrawals or dividends.

Sources: Marietta City Schools, Fort Frye Local Schools, State Rep. Don Jones.

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