When asked to explain why he chose to deliver this year’s State of the State address in Steubenville, John Kasich volleyed back that he wanted to show his interest in all parts of Ohio. The governor had another reason: to give a shout-out to Wells Academy for “setting a standard for the rest of the state.”
Why Wells Academy? In a ranking of the performance index scores of 3,457 traditional public and charter schools in 2010-11, the kindergarten through fourth grade school, with an enrollment of 215 students, was listed at the top. The governor pressed home the point: “Sixty percent of the students at Wells Academy are economically disadvantaged, yet they are No. 1.”
Summit County’s best performer, Hudson High School, ranked No. 16. At No. 64, Akron’s Early College High School led the Akron Public Schools in performance. At the bottom of the heap, at No. 3,457, was LifeSkills Center of Dayton.
The listing was the first draft of rankings that will be included on building report cards beginning next school year. The state budget requires for the first time that the Department of Education calculate and rank statewide the performance of all schools from best to worst. The purpose is to offer another means to compare local schools and districts. Stan Heffner, the state school superintendent, sees “a powerful tool we can use to see how local schools stack up with similar communities around the state.” In addition, the department will provide rankings based on spending data, such as the percentage of classroom versus non-instructional spending. The department still is working out the details for the financial ranking.
The performance index (PI) score is a weighted average of test scores. It takes into account the performance levels, ranging from Advanced to Below Basic, of all students who are required to take the state standardized tests. With a maximum 120 points (Wells Academy: 116.1905), the PI score already appears on individual school report cards.
No doubt, there are bragging rights when a school can claim to be No. 1, 10, 50 or 100 in the state. That level of comparison is simple enough. A PI score is likely to change yearly, and with it a school’s ranking. And if a list spurs educators and parents to push for higher standing, so much the better. Yet it is not at all clear that statewide comparisons based solely on test scores offer the best way to identify and encourage schools where teachers and students are working the hardest. That weakness led Ohio, wisely, to add “value-added” measures to school report cards.