Friday, October 7, 2016

Ohio School Report Card: Why Schools and the Department of Education Suck


The recent release of the Ohio Department of Education state report cards is causing concern in school districts across the state because many of this year’s scores are lower than in prior years.

Even though schools are seeing local improvement on many fronts, the results were not entirely unexpected since students are being judged against new, higher state standards.

The report cards reveal that all schools in Scioto County are struggling with at least one or more of these standards.”

(Ciarra Conley. “Schools struggle with state standards.” Portsmouth Daily Times
October 06, 2016.)

I am a retired teacher who lived with the stress of state testing for many years. Since I stopped teaching in 2001, more standards and more tests have applied increasing pressure to staff and students in Ohio schools. With these measures, teachers face an increased workload that takes time from their attention to other classroom concerns, and the seemingly impossible task of covering necessary content and test preparation puts the educational process in turmoil.

Now, I'm going to test your patience and your attention span. I'm asking you to read the components of the Ohio Report Card. This exercise will hopefully dispel speculation about the report card and allow you to see exactly why schools are receiving specific grades on the evaluation.

Warning! All educational goals and objectives are important. Each component is valuable. Still, to make these factors comparable, each must be measured. As you read objective standards of measuring each component, you will find measurement is a mind-bending, complicated, even somewhat subjective procedure. In other words, testing and compiling all this information for judging educational achievement is difficult, time-consuming, and, as you are about to find out, exhausting to high heaven. You are about to find out just how the unfathomable can be interpreted in a maze of dizzying reform.

So, just what are the lofty components for the state report cards in Ohio?

Components of the Ohio School Report Card

K-3 Literacy

Students who are reading proficiently in third grade are five times more likely to achieve college and career readiness than their non-proficient peers. The K-3 Literacy component looks at how successful the school is at getting struggling readers on track to proficiency in third grade and beyond.

How is the K-3 Literacy Improvement grade determined?

Schools and districts that had 5 percent or more of kindergarteners reading below grade level at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year receive K-3 Literacy grades on the Ohio School Report Cards. Schools with fewer than 5 percent of struggling readers in kindergarten do not receive these grades. K-3 Literacy Improvement uses results from two assessments: a reading diagnostic given to all students in kindergarten through grade 3 at the beginning of the school year; and Ohio’s state third grade English language arts test given to third-graders twice during the school year.
The grades for this measure and component are based on the percentage of students in each of the following situations:
  • Students who were not on track in reading last year in kindergarten and now are on track in first grade;
  • Students who were not on track in reading in first grade and now are on track in second grade;
  • Students who were not on track in reading in second grade and now are on track in third grade; and
  • Students who were not on track in reading at the beginning of third grade who scored “Proficient” on Ohio’s third grade English language arts test

We know that not all children start out at the same place with their learning, but every student should learn and grow throughout the school year. The Progress component of the report card looks closely at the growth that all students are making based on their past performances.

There are four measures within the component:

  1. Progress for all students in the school together;
  2. Progress for gifted students;
  3. Progress for students with disabilities; and
  4. Progress for students whose academic performance is in the lowest 20 percent of students statewide.
The state examines students’ state tests through a series of calculations to produce a “value-added” rating for your school or district for each of the four groups listed.
Progress measures have previously been based on state test results in math and English language arts in grades 4-8. This year, the Progress measures add state tests in grades 5-8 science and grade 6 social studies as well as math and English language arts end-of course high school exams.
Also, for the first time on this report card, schools and districts are receiving letter grades on the larger Progress component of which these measures are a part.


Each year, children take state tests in math, English language arts, science and social studies to measure how well they are meeting the expectations of their grade levels. The tests match the content and skills that are taught in the classroom every day and measure real-world skills like critical thinking, problem solving and writing. The Achievement component of the report card represents the number of students who passed the state tests and how well they performed on them.

75 percent of the grade comes from the Performance Index score: the level of achievement for each student on each state test. The possible levels are Advanced, Accelerated, Proficient, Basic and Limited. Schools and districts receive points for every student’s level of achievement.
25 percent of the grade comes from the Indicators Met score: how many students show “Proficient” knowledge on state tests in each grade and subject. In other words, how many students have met the basic expectations.

Gap Closing

Ensuring success for every child means that schools must close the gaps that exist in the achievement of our students that may be based on income, race, ethnicity or disability. The Gap Closing component shows how well schools are meeting the performance expectations for our most vulnerable populations of students in English language arts, math and graduation, so that all of Ohio’s students can be successful.

Gap Closing compares the academic performance of nine student groups against the performance of a 10th group, all students in Ohio. A grade is assigned after a review of the results of all 10 student groups in English language arts, math, and graduation rate and for efforts to close the achievement gaps. A district or school cannot receive an A if one of its groups is not reaching the annual goal for all students. The goals for all student groups are called Annual Measurable Objectives.

The sample charts below compare the performance of student groups to a state goal, which is shown as a red line. The end goal is for all groups of students to achieve at high levels.
The 10 student groups are:
  • All Students
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native
  • Asian/Pacific Islander
  • Black, Non-Hispanic
  • Multiracial
  • White, Non-Hispanic
  • Economically Disadvantaged
  • Students with Disabilities
  • Limited English Proficient
  • Hispanic

Graduation Rate

The Graduation Rate component of the report card looks at the percent of students who are successfully finishing high school with a diploma in four or five years.

For several years, each high school and school district has earned a letter grade ranging from A-F for each measure of the four-year graduation rate and the five-year graduation rate. For the first time, the 2016 Ohio School Report Cards also issue a grade for the larger Graduation Rate component, of which combines both measures.

How is the Graduation Rate component grade for your school or district determined?

The ranges for four-year and five-year rates are different and partially outlined in law.
  • 60% - The letter grade for the four-year graduation rate.
  • 40% - The letter grade for the five-year graduation rate.

Prepared for Success

The ultimate measure of a school’s quality is the preparedness of its students once they leave. Whether training in a technical field or preparing for work or college, the Prepared for Success component looks at how well prepared Ohio’s students are for all future opportunities.
Districts and schools will receive A-F letter grades on the Prepared for Success component for the first time this year.

How do districts and schools earn Prepared for Success grades? 

A Prepared for Success letter grade is based on how well the students performed on these six measures:

Primary measures
  • A district earns 1 point for every student who earns any of the following:
  • College entrance exam remediation-free scores* (18 for ACT English, 22 for ACT math and 21 for ACT reading; or 430 for SAT writing, 520 for SAT math and 450 for SAT reading)
  • An honors diploma; or
  • 12 points through an industry-recognized credential or group of credentials in one of 13 high-demand career fields.
If a student achieves more than one of the above, the district still earns 1 point for that student.

Bonus measures

For every student who earns 1 point plus one of the following, a district earns 0.3 additional points:
  • Advanced Placement tests – Scores 3 points or more on at least one test;
  • International Baccalaureate tests – Scores 4 points or more on at least one test;
  • College Credit Plus – Earns at least 3 credits.
If a student achieves more than one of the above, the district still earns 0.3 point for that student.

How is the Prepared for Success letter grade calculated?

Add the total points the district earned on the six measures, then divide that number by the total number of students in the adjusted classes of 2014 and 2015. The maximum points possible are 1.3 per student.

(“A Brief Overview of the 2016 Ohio School Report Cards.” 
Ohio Department of Education. 2016.)

Whew! I bet by now, if you didn't cheat and read only part of the components, you are exhausted. In one respect, the report cards are extremely impressive in their extensive, calculated examination of Ohio schools. But, in another view, you must remember that the schools – staff, administration, and students – are left with the burden of meeting vast expectations.

With scores on report cards mattering so much to all involved, is it any wonder an environment of tension and downright paranoia exists in Ohio schools? Teachers constantly stress not only about teaching their content but also about meeting accountability standards that show excellence. Today, public educators are in hyper-drive trying to keep up with what is expected of them.
Here is some insight:

A nine year study by the National Research Council (2011) concluded that the emphasis on testing yielded little learning progress but caused significant harm. NCLB demonstrated what happens when tests are misused. Negative consequences include narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing students out of school, driving teachers out of the profession, and undermining student engagement and school climate.

The research also concluded that high school graduation tests, used by 25 states, disproportionately penalize low-income and minority students, along with English language learners and the disabled. They do not promote the knowledge, skills and habits needed for success in college or skilled work. Tracking generally hurts slower students but does not help more advanced students. Too often, the assumption is that low-scoring students need low-level remediation rather than enrichment, challenge and support. Screening and readiness tests are frequently inaccurate and can lead to misdiagnosis of student learning needs

(“How Standardized Testing Damages Education. Fair Test: the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. August 28, 2007 and updated July 2012)

A National Research Council report says that education policies pushing more tests haven’t necessarily led to more learning.

“We went ahead, implementing this incredibly expensive and elaborate strategy for changing the education system without creating enough ways to test whether what we are doing is useful or not,” said Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University and member of the committee that produced the report.

Increasing test scores do not always correlate to more learning or achievement, the study authors said.

(Joy Resmovits. “National Testing Push Yielded Few Learning Advances: Report.” Huffington Post. May 27, 2011.)


My View

I do not like the fact that schools in the county receive such poor scores on the state report card. I have a very hard time accepting the Daily Times report of the Portsmouth City School District receiving an F for Gap Closing and D’s in Achievement, K-3 Literacy, Progress and Preparedness for Success. My granddaughters attend Portsmouth, and I want their school to excel.

It is also disheartening to hear excuses for poor performance; however when measurements keep changing, the chaos is maddening. I thoroughly understand what Portsmouth’s Superintendent Scott Dutey meant when he lamented …

“Right now, it’s a mess. I can tell you there are a lot of superintendents and lots of Boards of Education across the state trying to get the attention of legislature. State-wide we have a lot of work to do. No more new standards, no more new tests, no changing the expected outcomes for each test. Just give us a break, let us do our jobs and the schools will start achieving again.”

Yet, my old-fashioned, geezer-conditioned brain believes a much bigger change is needed in Ohio schools – a step “backward” if you will. From both my experience as a student and as a teacher, I conclude that schools were once much happier and much more conducive to progress. I believe a return to the way it used to be” is needed. That return would be bent on once again, making schools responsible for basic education and not driven to provide every service for every possible need.

Does the state report card improve everyday teaching in the county? I think the answer is a resounding “no.” The busy work of accountability, the time spent in test preparation and the actual battery of state testing – these things cut important content teaching because time does not allow for mastery anymore. Teaching is an art that requires much practice and learning involves critical thinking skills that require time and patience. Gone is the important component of allowing students time to digest information and engage in self-learning.

For the life of me, when I began teaching in 1974, I found, as my colleagues did, teaching was a joy. The high school curriculum was focused on the mastery of high school content skills and not meant to be a substitute for grade school or for college. We teachers were not pressured by state testing or by imposed standards of continuous “every student” accountability. The challenges of educating students then were similar to those of today, but we took time to allow enrichment. Then, even failure was believed to be part of a learning experience.

If everything is taunt, serious, and pressured, the best part of learning is lost. How can an environment of measure, measure, measure excite learning? For that matter, how can it encourage teachers to become more than accountants and automatons of information? And, how can it encourage students to become independent learners?

I believe at the risk of losing some programs – advanced and remedial – schools should be focused on grade-level achievement by allowing teachers much more time to teach their content. My old-school philosophy is to give, once again, needed flexibility to teachers and insist schools provide students with a strong, basic education. That is my idea of making schools what they once were. High schools should not be colleges and grade schools should not be high schools – simplifying grade-level achievement in a return to quality, not quantity, encourages necessary mastery while making students responsible for a limited range of objectives. 

So, to sum up, I think state standards are admirable, but the insane manner in which the state department and schools employ these mass reforms is horrible. Standardized accountability is a partial reform that doesn't necessarily paint a real picture of achievement. Instead, the overuse of these measures creates undo chaos and anxiety. More suffering is inevitable unless the system is simplified.

Old school I am. Why not just trust teachers and schools to report the progress of their students with the measures they have, and use internal and external local pressures to improve the measures and practices? That would seem to avoid most of the social, emotional, and political costs incurred by the state report card. That would also be a step in the direction of “the way it used to be.” Local schools can be successful – they have proven this time and again. They deserve to have the opportunity to do this once more.

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