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State report card system may be revamped

The days of the A-F grading system for Ohio schools and school districts may be numbered.

A state committee formed to examine the Department of Education report card system held its final meeting Wednesday and is now working on a report. Ohio Rep. Don Jones, the Republican who represents District 95, said Thursday that the committee heard from numerous organizations and now is drafting a report for the governor and the legislature.

Jones, a retired classroom teacher and the House education committee chairman, said dislike of the A-F grading system was a common theme in presentations to the report card group. That committee included Jones, representatives Lisa Sobecki from Toledo and Tracy Richardson of Marysville, senators Teresa Fodor of Toledo, Peggy Lehner of Kettering and Louis W. Blessing III of Colerain Township, along with state superintendent Paolo DeMaria and three district superintendents – Cameron Ryba of Strongsville City Schools, Marion Styles of Marion City Schools and Stephanie Starcher of Fort Frye Local Schools.

“We heard a real desire to remove the A-F designation because it is misleading,” Jones said. “Most people believe that if their district isn’t getting an A or a B, it’s failing.”

The letter-grade ratings for districts and schools came out of a notion that the general public would like to have that simplified information to rate the education being delivered. In addition to the overall rating, the grading system is applied to several other categories, ranging from graduation rates to advancement year-over-year of underachieving students.

The letter grade system has drawn near-universal dislike from school and district administrators. A study by the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed a clear correlation between high grades and wealth, with economically disadvantaged districts almost entirely in lower grades. Most educators believe the letter grades are not an accurate indicator of the value of districts.

Starcher, a committee member and superintendent of Fort Frye Local Schools, said the 10-member committee heard from numerous groups.

“One commonality was doing away with the letter grade system because it’s misleading and highly based on achievement and economic status,” she said. “There was a lot of interest across many of those organizations in eliminating it, and I hope the legislators will react and do what’s in the interest of communities and their school systems.”

Jones said concerns were heard about several of the report card categories and he expects the committee’s report to address those.

“I think we need to take a hard look at what needs to be reported but not necessarily graded,” he said. “We don’t have to have a grade for everything. One of the problems is that the system does not showcase a lot of the good things that are being done in our schools.”

As an example he cited the “Prepared for Success” category, which is intended to indicate how well schools get their students ready for college or careers.

“There are 511 districts that have an F or a D in that area. The question is, is it accurately measuring what it was intended to? I don’t think it is,” he said.

Starcher said she was somewhat surprised that the committee’s work was not extended past its December deadline.

“We did a lot of prep work, meeting with superintendents across the state, the state association of superintendents collected surveys, we met several times since the spring to come up with recommendations,” she said. “Yesterday when they announced that the job was complete, I was caught off guard. I felt like our job was to work together as a team of 10 to build a report card system.”

Jones said he thinks the committee heard from a broad cross-section of interests and is ready to make its recommendations, for now.

“We heard from teachers, administrators, the association for gifted teaching, I think everyone had a voice in the conversation, and now we’ll take those ideas and summarize them, present a report to the governor and the general assembly,” he said. “After the report, we have to sit down and craft legislation.”

This won’t be the end of the process, he said.

“I really, truly think that the work is just beginning, and now we have to take a hard look at it,” he said.

Michael Kelly can be reached at mkelly@mariettatimes.com

Ohio State Report Card Study Committee

• Senators: Sen. Teresa Fodor, D-Toledo, Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering and Louis W. Blessing III R- Colerain Twp.

• Representatives: Rep. Don Jones (R-Freeport), Rep. Lisa Sobecki, D-Toledo and Rep. Tracy Richardson R-Marysville.

• Superintendents: Cameron Ryba, Strongsville City Schools, Marion Styles, Marion City Schools, Stephanie Starcher, Fort Frye Local Schools.

• Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria.

Source: Ohio Department of Education.

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