The new state report cards on school district performance are out, and Barberton schools’ score for performance on standardized tests placed it lower than 89 percent of the public districts in Ohio.
Hudson, on the other hand, was at the other end of the spectrum, scoring better than 91 percent.
But there are many new features in the grading system that flip the tables on high-performing districts such as Hudson, putting them in a no-win situation.
A new measure that looks at improvement of the lowest-performing students — Barberton has many and Hudson has few — gives Barberton an A and Hudson a D.
Issued Thursday, the report cards move from a system that ranked schools from “Academic Emergency” to “Excellent with Distinction” to a more familiar A-F letter-grade system.
However, overall district grades will not be available until 2015, making it difficult to compare schools over time and with one another. Also missing from the data are 20 percent of charter schools in operation last year. And for some measures, among them gifted-students’ annual performance improvement, 280 of the 282 charter schools that received a report card were not rated.
The new system gives letter grades for nine measures that make up four categories, and those categories, too, lack a grade.
“This new grading system, there’s a lot to learn,” said Doreen Osmun,assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Hudson schools. “The intention is to be clear. I’m just not sure it’s meeting that intention. I think it’s more confusing than clear.”
Hudson scored better than most local schools on state tests. But the district is not taking lightly a B or C on some measures that determine if disadvantaged, disabled, minority or typically low-performing students are making gains.
“We want to be accountable,” said Osmun,who has identified a drop in math scores among students with disabilities as an area for improvement.
As early as April, state officials began preparing school officials for the delivery of the report cards, saying that even an occasional D or F among high-performing schools is still a “call to action.”
“These reports represent a big change in how we rank the performance of our boys and girls,” Richard Ross, the head of the Ohio Department of Education, said during a telephone briefing with reporters Thursday. Ross recited statistics on graduation and performance rates among disadvantaged and minority students.
“The bottom line: This can’t keep happening,” he said. “I think it is fundamentally wrong to have lower expectations for some of our boys and girls.”
Although the scoring is designed to identify the needs of students and improve school accountability, charter schools, which tend to be among the state’s worst performers, will get a reprieve.
The state has been closing charter schools for poor academic performance, but because overall performance ratings will temporarily be unavailable, there will be no way to identify poorly performing charters and order a shutdown.
“We have yet to work on the closure criteria,” said Karlyn Geis, a data administration manager with the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Community Schools. “The list on the [department] website of schools that are at risk will have to be reanalyzed due to changes.”
Those already under orders to close, however, will not be exempt.
Dropout recovery programs — charter schools that cater to struggling students — are among the 71 charter schools that did not receive a report card this year. Geis said that because of the provisional nature of the report cards, no dropout recovery program could be closed for low graduation rates or poor performance before 2017.
Work in progress
When fully developed, the new report cards will measure six categories, or components. Thursday’s report cards covered most of the first four: Achievement (a measure of student performance), Progress (also known as value-added, measuring yearly progress), Gap Closing (how schools narrow historic achievement gaps that persist among minority, low-income, students with disabilities and other subgroups) and Graduation Rate (no longer a single snapshot, the new graduation rates are a collection of four- and five-year trends).
In August 2014, the state will include a K-3 literacy component, which measures each school’s ability to improve reading in kindergarten through third grade. Students scoring below a 392 on the reading proficiency test this school year can be held back from fourth grade under the rules of the state’s new Third Grade Reading Guarantee.
The final component to be added, Prepared for Success, measures a student’s ability to avoid remedial course work in college and be ready for the workforce. This component coincides with the full implementation in the 2014-15 school year of the Common Core State Standards, a rigorous set of benchmarks for Ohio and 44 other states.
Many local superintendents and curriculum directors are using the new report cards to drill down to underperforming subgroups and buildings.
That’s the intention, Ross said.
But some schools refuse to make sweeping organizational changes based on marginal data points.
“There are some new measures which are snapshots. We don’t take snapshots. We try to look at trend data and is that data moving up,” said Christopher DiLoreto, superintendent of a consistently high-performing district, Jackson in Stark County.
Barberton looks at the data differently.
“The performance index is where we get hurt. Our kids aren’t up there yet,” said Superintendent Patti Cleary, whose district ranked 540th out of 610 on test scores.
For Cleary, it’s progress, or value added, that counts.
“To me that’s the most important score, because that shows what our teachers did in the classroom. This is just how students grew in one year in our classrooms.”
While Cleary said the report cards reflect a need to improve scores among disabled students, she hopes that the F and D her schools received don’t undermine other gains, like a recent jump in reading proficiency among all students.
“I hope that the community understands that we are not sliding backwards. We are actually improving,” Cleary said.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.