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Recommendations made to change state report cards

The teachers of Ohio have weighed in on the state’s controversial letter-grade report card system. Like the legislative committee that worked on the issue much of the year, the Ohio Education Association wants the system rebuilt, with the letter-grades eliminated. The OEA represents about 122,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals from public schools and colleges.

The letter-grade system has been a sore point for people in the education system for years. Originally applied to schools, the system was revamped for application to entire districts two years ago. It boils down data through a formula that assigns a letter grade in six categories, and through a further calculation creates a letter grade for individual schools and their districts.

The system has been criticized by teachers, administrators and boards, all of whom have alleged that a letter grade fails to capture the reality of their schools and districts.

The OEA released its statement out of an annual meeting on Saturday, proposing to replace the existing assessment with another that offers the public condensed data for schools and districts that include demography, academic performance and student post-graduation success.

“Instead of a cookie-cutter approach to state report cards, OEA envisions a system that uses a performance dashboard and a student opportunity profile that have proven successful in other states, such as Oregon and Massachusetts, in informing educators, parents, elected officials and policy makers of how districts and schools are faring,” the release stated.

Annual report cards are a requirement of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) but the act doesn’t spell out in detail how the report cards are to be formulated or presented to the public. Some states use general ratings such as Exceeds Standards, Meets Standards and Does Not Meet Standards rather than applying A-F letter grades.

Ohio Rep. Don Jones, now chairman of the state legislature education committee, said in an interview in late November after chairing a months-long examination of Ohio’s system that he was convinced the letter grade system has to give way to something that better indicates a district’s accomplishments.

Marietta City Schools board of education vice president Russ Garrison has been analyzing report card data for years and is an opponent of the letter grade system as well as the way the ranking calculations are made.

“It is providing disinformation,” he said. “Whenever you look at district averages, you by default look at the wealth, it’s cooked into the averages.”

Garrison said the major issue is that the system compares wealthy districts with poor districts without adjusting for the challenges that economically disadvantaged students and their schools face.

“When you look at average performance, part of that is Upper Arlington with 0.9 percent economically disadvantaged and little diversity, and part of it is inner city schools with 100 percent economically disadvantaged and high diversity. That school could be outperforming its peers and still look poor compared to other districts across the state,” he said.

Garrison said he agrees for the most part with the OEA’s proposal, but thinks it should go further and place students in groups according to economic status.

“You would have subgroups of economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged and with disabilities,” he said, and by doing so get a more accurate and useful gauge of student performance and school achievements.

“If you don’t compare like-with-like populations, you can’t get that correlation with wealth out,” he said.

Fort Frye Local Schools Superintendent Stephanie Starcher, who was on the 10-member committee that studied the report card issues, said the OEA’s concerns and those of the state superintendents’ association are pretty closely aligned. Her worry is that it was too much change to make all at once.

“I’m not opposed to a performance dashboard system, it’s better than the A-F letter grades, but I think the kind of change they’re proposing is monumental and I’m concerned it would take years,” she said. “I would like to see immediate change along with a long-term overhaul. I’m just concerned that the time for change is right now, and we need to seize that.”

Michael Kelly can be reached at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

Ohio Education Association on state report cards:

• Get rid of the letter grades.

• Offer information on school or district demography, performance in tests and other measurements and measurable student opportunities following graduation.

Source: Ohio Education Association.

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