How much teaching and learning goes on in public schools is everybody’s business, and school rating (or accountability) systems are expected to tell us accurately how a school district and its individual schools are performing. On Thursday, the Ohio House approved legislation to replace the state’s current school report card. The Senate next picks up House Bill 555. On the fast track in a lame-duck session, with Gov. John Kasich eager to sign, the bill is all but teed up for approval by year’s end. That would be unfortunate.
An overhaul is due, without question. The current system is beginning to border on the ridiculous, with the majority of districts rating at least Excellent on a scale that goes from Academic Emergency to Excellent with Distinction. Also, Ohio finds itself on a short leash, having pledged to put in place a new letter-grade rating system, in exchange for waivers from some provisions of the No Child Left Behind law. In that deal, Ohio is obligated to submit to the federal Department of Education for review and approval by the end of this school year the final version of the A to F grading system along with relevant documentation such as legislation and administrative rules.
All the same, a law of such consequence deserves more careful deliberation than a rushed session permits. The new report card will feature a “dashboard” of measures in six categories: achievement status (essentially the test scores and performance index of the current system); four- and five-year graduation rates; student progress (familiar now as the “value-added” calculation); achievement gap closing; K-3 literacy progress; plus a “prepared for success” measure. Grading in the separate categories will be phased in. An overall composite A-F grade will be awarded beginning in 2014-15, when the tougher new Common Core curriculum and standards are implemented.
Clearly, the expanded dashboard promises a more incisive assessment of a school’s performance than relying almost exclusively on test scores. Important as well, the bill replaces the confusing Adequate Yearly Progress with a measure that tracks reductions in performance gaps among subgroups rather than monitoring whether a school met or missed an unrealistic target.
Still, for what the legislation aims to achieve — a fair, accurate and understandable assessment of school performance — it could and should be improved. For instance, educators in urban public and charter schools point to the close correlation between household income and test scores. They note that test scores remain the basis of most of the dashboard measures, from which the composite letter grade will be calculated. They rightly argue that even though the measures may have improved, the legislation has yet to offer a better way of reflecting movement in the most challenging teaching and learning circumstances.