The Ohio House Education Committtee is conducting hearings this week on legislation to revamp the grading system for public schools and districts. State Rep. Gerald Stebelton, who chairs the committee, plans to have House Bill 555 completed in the House and Senate by Dec. 31.
In a lame-duck session that could be quite busy, it is a tight deadline for a bill that aims to change how the state measures and reports how well its school system is performing. As Stebelton concedes, the bill is complicated, with “a whole lot of moving parts here and a lot of moving measurements” that need to be addressed.
Under both Gov. John Kasich and his predecessor, Ted Strickland, the Statehouse committed to raise the quality of public education, from content and assessments to the funding system. As part of this larger goal, the Statehouse approved legislation earlier this year to replace the current system of rating individual districts and schools. Indeed, there is little argument that the current ratings, which range from Academic Emergency to Excellent with Distinction, are overdue for change. A system that rates 63 percent of districts as excellent or better lacks essential credibility.
Ohio has another reason to revamp its accountability system. The state applied for and received a federal waiver from some of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, including the deadline to reach 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014. To get the waiver, Ohio indicated it would adopt an A to F letter-grade system that would reflect a broader range of measures. Among them: more rigorous curriculum and assessments and progress measures on achievement gaps, graduation rates, academic growth among subgroups, dropout recovery and prevention, and college and career readiness.
But the waiver comes with a condition (which might explain the rush to get H.B. 555 out the door): “If Ohio does not submit for review an amended request that includes the final version of the A-F grading system or does not receive approval of the amended request, the waivers ... will expire at the end of the 2012–2013 school year.” And all the No Child requirements would be back in force for Ohio schools.
Clearly, there is every incentive for lawmakers to beat the deadlines. More important for the credibility of school ratings is that they take the time to craft measures that accurately capture and report how schools are performing.