Ohio schools soon might face a new A-to-F report-card system and a harder time earning high marks after the Republican-led House approved sweeping changes to the state's school-accountability system.
Supporters, led by Gov. John Kasich, say the overhaul is long overdue and necessary to ensure that high-school graduates are prepared to go to college or start a career.
The current system has "low performance expectations for students and schools," said Rep. Gerald L. Stebelton, R-Lancaster and sponsor of House Bill 555. A score "as low as 42 percent (on a state proficiency test) is labeled as proficient ... (it) gives a false sense of how our schools are doing."
The bill, approved 58-27 on a mostly party-line vote, moved to the Senate, where it was expected to win quick approval and be sent to the governor by mid-December.
Minority Democrats in the House said the legislation was being rushed and argued that reforms should be done in conjunction with a new school-funding plan that Kasich is expected to unveil early next year.
"While we can all agree that improving education standards is important but, by rushing to do pass this bill, Gov. Kasich is setting our children up for failure and in the end parents will give the governor an 'F.' Ramming House Bill 555 through the legislature only compounds the problem of too many curriculum and school performance changes without adequate time or constitutional funding," state Rep. Matt Lundy (D- Elyria) said.
In Ohio, 192 school districts -- including Norwalk City Schools, Edison and Monroeville -- had levies on the ballot during this past election after Gov. Kasich's budget slashed $2 billion in education funding. While school districts across the state are facing a combined school-funding deficit of over $1.79 billion in fiscal year 2014, the requirements continue to change as funding uncertainty looms.
"Lately the news has been all about Washington and the fiscal cliff, but right here in Ohio Gov. Kasich is driving education off a cliff," Lundy said. "Gov. Kasich's budget has already forced 192 schools districts to ask for tax increases. Before we cause more damage to schools and communities, we should wait until a new funding formula has been outlined and we know how education funding will be impacted before we change the rules of the road for schools."
House Bill 30 dismantled education reforms set in place by Democrats taking apart key provisions like all-day kindergarten, and it removed the Evidence Based Model for education, returning us to an unconstitutional funding system that is overly reliant on property taxes.
Two years later, Kasich has still failed to introduce his own school funding plan, Lundy said.
"I appreciate and support the goal of raising school standards. But changing the standards mid-term, and then penalizing schools and kids for failing to meet the new standards, is dangerous and unfair," said House Minority Leader Armond Budish (D-Beachwood). "In addition, the creation of multiple new mandates, after slashing school funding, and without giving school districts the tools needed to improve education, is counterproductive and sets our children up for failure."
House Bill 555 would create an A-F grading system on state report cards to replace designations such as "continuous improvement" and "academic watch." Schools would be graded in six areas: some current ones, such as how well students perform on state assessments and how much progress they are making; and some new ones. The latter would include how many youngsters are reading at grade level and how many high-school students take college-entrance exams, advanced-placement courses and dual-enrollment classes that allow them to earn college credits.
Stebelton said the ACT likely will be used for the college-entrance exam, but such details still needed to be worked out.
Schools and districts would receive letter grades for current measures this school year, while grades for new measures would be phased in. Overall grades for schools and districts would start in the 2014-15 school year.
The reforms come as Ohio prepares to begin using more-rigorous Common Core academic standards for math and language arts and new student testing now being developed.
The legislation also would create standards for dropout-recovery schools and a ranking system for sponsors of privately operated, tax-funded charter schools.
"We cannot expect our children to succeed when the current system has low expectations, a shockingly high dropout rate and graduates who are unprepared for life after high school," Stebelton said.
Democrats argued that it was unfair to ask schools to make big changes without knowing what the governor will reveal in his funding plan.
"Constant change has created havoc for teachers and administrators because just when they get one system under command, things change," said Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood.
Before the vote, majority Republicans tabled several amendments offered by Democrats, including one to delay implementation of reforms and abolish an overall grade for schools and districts.
By Catherine Candisky - The Columbus Dispatch (MCT)
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