Find a way to make them 'understandable'

Cary Ashby • Apr 20, 2018 at 2:00 AM

One of the issues that local superintendents have with the state report card is being able to understand the scores — and then being able to explain the results to the community.

“I’m all for changes that simplify (it),” Monroeville Local Schools Superintendent Ralph Moore said. “That’s a difficult  task. People need to understand (the report cards).”

Another challenge he has faced is when the voting public sees a grade of “C,” it’s perceived that the district isn’t performing well. However, in the current version, Moore said the letter grade “is an outstanding grade” and means the school is meeting state standards.

“I think that’s confusing for people,” Moore added.

Edison Local Schools Superintendent Tom Roth said everyone is used to seeing “A” through “F” grades on report cards,” so even when parents see a district receiving a “C” from the Ohio Department of Education, it’s not received well.

“Everybody wants to see A’s and B’s,” he added.

A state school board panel and the new House Bill 591 in the Ohio House both are seeking to make major changes to the report cards, which were redesigned in 2013 and are still being phased in.

State Rep. Mike Duffey has told the House Education Committee that two of the major complaints are some of the 14 graded areas such as “gap closing” and “K-3 literacy” are either counter-intuitive or just too hard for parents to understand; and the A-F grades lead to a punitive approach to schools and should be dropped.

“We should move away from the winners and losers approach to the report card,” Duffey said last week.

Roth said he “would completely agree with that.” When the report cards were introduced, he said schools were told there wouldn’t be a comparison from district to district, but “that’s they’ve done.”


Frustrations and concerns

Norwalk City Schools Superintendent George Fisk’s main concern is “with the accountability systems developed by our state legislature (and) the apparent connections between district wealth and achievement scores.”

“If the true intent of the accountability systems are to empower parents to make appropriate school choice decisions, then the measures should grade districts equally without a connection to wealth or economic status,” he said.

One of the biggest frustrations for Bellevue City Schools Superintendent Kim Schubert has been how much the report-card measures and the tests themselves have fluctuated so much over the last several years.

“The report cards are hard for parents and community members to understand and the measures are constantly changing. Just this week we had testing issues with the Internet going down and (Wednesday) the testing company had issues, so we couldn't even log in. We work through all of these issues and value accountability, but a one-day assessment on a high-stakes test is no way to grade the success of school districts,” she said.

Also, Schubert said the “specific measures and formulas of the local report card are extremely complex and ever-changing.”

“This has caused a great amount of frustration among educators, parents and community members. It is so complex that I feel people aren't even putting any value into the current system. It is a tremendous waste of resources that could be going directly into classrooms to help address academic, social and safety issues that we are dealing with,” she said.

As with other local superintendents, Fisk said one of his biggest frustrations is explaining to parents the complicated mathematical formulas used to determine the scores.

“Educators at times struggle to understand the formulas and rationales used and we deal with these measures frequently. How reasonable is it for families that research district report cards once a year to fully digest what the state is presenting?,” he added.

Roth shared similar feedback, saying it’s difficult for someone to interpret the state report cards unless they deal with it every day. 

As an example, he said many educators “can’t get our heads around” the graded area of “K-3 literacy” because there’s such a complex formula and so many complicated calculations and just like the “value-added — the main growth measure for Ohio — the district has to end up trusting the state is using the correct numbers.

“It’s hard to explain,” the Edison superintendent added.

Moore said “value added” is the amount of academic growth that students have “from the time we get them to the time they leave us.” One of the misconceptions he said is a district might receive a “D” on its card, but there may be academic growth in other aspects of the school.

“The grade just doesn’t reflect it yet,” added the Monroeville superintendent, who wants to see cards in which districts are compared “apple to apple and orange to orange.”


What to change?

Fisk said he wants to see the ODE “find an adequate and fair way for families to compare school districts through the report card system.”

“There are elements of the current report card system which are close to this goal, but many others that need serious attention and adjustment. Of course we have been waiting over 20 years for the state legislature to fix our unconstitutional school funding system, so there is probably not a reasonable chance of finding fairness in the report card system either,” the Norwalk superintendent added.

For Schubert, a “much more cost-effective way to measure student progress and success” than the state report cards is a quality profile. She sends one to every Bellevue resident each September.

“(It) provides a much more in-depth look into our school system. I know that several districts in our area are doing the same in order to provide an accurate picture of the quality of education being offered in our schools as we do not believe this is accomplished through the current report card system. Schools could use their local assessment data, which is meaningful, to not only guide instruction, but to also inform our communities of our progress,” Schubert said.

Moore said he sees the report cards as a way to “project some sense of accountablity to the voting public” and any changes to the system need to reflect that.

“I think we need to find a way to make the grade cards more understandable,” he added.

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