ACSD State Report Card screenshot

A screenshot of the Athens City School District's report card taken from the Ohio Department of Education's website.

Since state report cards for local school districts in Ohio came out on Sept. 13, local public-school administrators have been noting that the given grades are not an accurate reflection of students’ academic achievements.

Supt. George Wood of the Federal-Hocking Local School District on Friday called the state report cards “a waste of time, paper and money,” noting that many of the indicators used to evaluate a school district’s performance are based on standardized test scores.

“We’ve been doing standardized testing of children in this state at the high-school level for over 30 years, at the elementary level for over 20,” Wood said. “Never has the state of Ohio done any research on whether or not success on any of those tests has anything to do with success in college, at a job, in the military. There just isn’t any; never has been, never will be.”

Wood argued that the only measure used to formulate state report card grades that actually relates directly to students’ post-graduation success is a district’s graduation rate, which accounts for 15 percent of a district’s overall grade from the state of Ohio. 

“The only research finding about school accountability that has been true ever since we started school research is that young people with a high-school diploma have a vastly, vastly improved opportunity for success than young people without them,” Wood said. That’s the only metric that matters in the evaluation of school districts, he argued.

“All the schools around here that got low to midline grades all have higher graduation rates than the state average,” Wood said, “... and yet we all got bad report cards.”

Alexander Local School District Supt. Lindy Douglas offered a more positive view of the state report cards on Friday, saying she does think the grades help school districts “focus on the academic success” of students.

“I think everyone interprets the district report card in different ways, but we use it as a growing tool,” Douglas said, adding that her school district focuses on the Progress and Gap Closing components of the district’s overall grade. “Those are two really important categories we focus on,” along with graduation rate and literacy, Douglas said. 

Alexander received a “C” overall, with a “B” in the Gap Closing component, an “A” in Progress and an “A” in Graduation Rate. “We use the local report card as a tool,” Douglas said, “… but we also understand it’s only a snapshot of our district. There are other ways to evaluate our district.”

Athens City School Supt. Tom Gibbs was less than impressed with the state report cards when interviewed last week. He argued that the 32-page document explaining how to interpret the report cards is too long and too complicated. “Any report card that requires a 32-page operational manual cannot be effective,” Gibbs said in an email last Tuesday.

In a subsequent interview on Thursday, Gibbs argued that the document doesn’t even do a good job of explaining how to understand the report cards, a sentiment also shared by Wood. 

“No parent will ever understand it,” Wood said of the guide document. “It’s taken me weeks to figure out how to read it.”

Gibbs also expressed doubts about the specific measures used to evaluate school districts. One component of a district’s overall grade called “Prepared for Success” is based on the number of students who earn “remediation-free” ACT and SAT scores (which are determined by the Ohio Department of Education), earn honor diplomas or industry credentials, take advanced placement (AP) classes and/or College Credit Plus (CCP) courses prior to graduation, among other factors, Gibbs said. 

“Athens High School, in our area, does very well in that regard,” Gibbs said. “Last year our average student who was heading off to college and took the ACT had a higher average score than incoming freshmen at OU. We offer more advanced-placement classes than anyone around. We’ve been on the advanced-placement honor roll for multiple years, recently.” 

Many Athens High School students take CCP classes, as well, Gibbs said, “some going full time.”

Despite the successes cited by Gibbs, the Athens City School District received a “D” on the Prepared for Success measure, which accounts for 15 percent of a district’s overall grade. “I find that difficult to come to terms with given all the great things that I know are happening at Athens High School,” Gibbs said.  

ONLY NINE OUT OF THE 612-plus school districts in Ohio received an “A” on that measure, Wood noted. “You’re telling every employer that’s thinking about locating (to) Ohio, every family that’s thinking about moving to Ohio... (that) the schools in Ohio can’t prepare kids for success because over 80 percent of schools in the state get a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ on that measure,” Wood said.

Alexander Supt. Douglas said the Prepare for Success component is the only category where she would disagree with her district’s grade. “I disagree with the way they’re calculating that… We have a lot going on here that is not being assessed,” including the number of students taking AP and CCP classes, she said.

Gibbs said that school districts in more rural, less affluent areas are “at a disadvantage… They might not have access to institutions of higher education in order to be able to offer as many (CCP) courses. They might not have the number of students attending to be able to offer AP classes at their school district.”

Poverty rates, which influence student achievement at schools with higher rates of poverty, are also not accounted for by the report card evaluation system, according to Gibbs. A press release issued on Sept. 13 by the Ohio Education Association (OEA) echoes that criticism. 

OEA President Becky Higgins said in the release that “the data in the state report cards do not reflect… the socio-economic factors that impact student performance. Without that assessment, the overall grades for school districts are too simplistic.” The OEA is an organization representing 125,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals in Ohio’s public schools, colleges and universities, the release states.

Gibbs said Thursday “multiple studies indicate a very clear correlation” between poverty and performance on standardized tests. Specifically, Gibbs noted that students at more affluent schools tend to score better on standardized tests than students at schools with higher levels of poverty. “All of the challenges that families living in poverty deal with on a day-to-day basis tend to exacerbate issues with learning just from the get go, from early on,” Gibbs said.

Not only has the state of Ohio been testing students more rigorously over time, Gibbs said, the required number of students who need to perform at “proficient or above” has continuously increased, and the tests themselves change regularly. With that in mind, Gibbs said that it “shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that most of the state has a ‘C’ or worse on these grade charts because we’ve engineered it that way.”

The OEA, as stated in the release, has urged the Ohio Legislature to pass the report card reforms proposed in House Bill 591, introduced last April. “These reforms would end arbitrary letter grades that are biased against low-income districts and replace them with other indicators that are easy to understand and are based on the needs of parents and students,” Higgins continued in the release.

The proposed bill is one sign that the state government may be on track to implement changes to the district report card evaluation system. Another sign is that gubernatorial candidates running in the election in Ohio’s general election on Nov. 6 have committed to reducing the state’s focus on standardized test scores and school evaluations. 

Wood, who has worked in the Federal-Hocking School District for 25 years, said he has heard similar promises of educational reform before. “I’ve heard it for eight years when one party was totally in control of the governorship, the House and the Senate in Columbus, and nothing changed,” Wood said. “In fact it got worse.” 

Wood said what gives him hope “is the good work of classroom teachers and school administrators and young people in this area who are at school right now doing the work it takes to be successful.”

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