Results from the 2015 Ohio School Report Cards have some school officials questioning whether the new reporting system is flawed.

On Thursday, after the Ohio Department of Education released the report cards — showing many districts that were once considered high-performing are now failing — leaders in education cautioned that inaccuracies in tests used to develop the report cards could render the report cards invalid, or even useless.

The new report card looks at student progress, student achievement on state tests and whether schools are reducing achievement and graduation gaps affecting populations, including minority, English language learning and economically disadvantaged students. The state department of education had warned that some districts could see lower report card grades because of the move to new, more rigorous testing last year.

The progress grade is used to measure student growth in math and reading in fourth through eighth grades over a year’s time. The letter grade C reflects that students made a year’s growth. An A means students exceeded a year’s growth.

Report card results show that 106 districts that aced student progress, or value added, two years ago flunked in 2015. Local districts included in that group are Fairless, Jackson, James A. Garfield, Louisville, Massillon, Minerva, North Canton, Plain, Southwest, Springfield, Tallmadge, Triway, Twinsburg, Wadsworth and Woodridge.

Cuyahoga Falls, Green (in Wayne County), Lake and Sandy Valley slipped three letter grades in overall student progress.

The 33 districts that turned Fs into As include Akron, Cincinnati, Columbus and Warren. Manchester and Black River local schools improved two letter grades, from Cs to As. Crestwood, Orrville, Field, Tuslaw, Chippewa and Dalton all improved a letter grade.

David James, superintendent of Akron Public Schools, said he is proud of the educators and students in his district for their achievements in exceeding one year’s growth. The district earned straight As in its value added scores for overall students, gifted students, students with achievement scores in the lowest 20 percent and students with disabilities.

Although Akron fared well in the progress measurement, James agrees with many of his colleagues that the report card is complex and does not give a true representation of a district’s performance. Many districts throughout the state also use a local assessment to gauge effectiveness.

“Due to the constant changes at the state level, including more rigorous standards and three different tests in three years’ time, it is impossible to view the report card grades as an accurate reflection of a school’s academic accomplishments,” James said. “The only measures on the report card this year that match our own locally controlled assessments are the value added measures. This category is measured fairly, because it combines three years’ worth of data.”

Jackson Local Superintendent Christopher DiLoreto views the value added, or progress, measure quite differently. On Tuesday, he was among a group of Stark County school officials who asked legislators to stop the release of the new state report cards because they do not accurately represent their districts’ performance, particularly when it comes to the progress measure.

“The test data is not consistent. The state is measuring growth based on three tests [given from Spring 2014 to Spring 2016] by three different test vendors,” said DiLoreto, whose district’s value added grade dropped from an A to an F. “We are hopeful that our parents and community members realize that we have historically been among the top 25 schools of distinction in the state of Ohio and that the data is not reliable in giving us a snapshot of whether a student has grown or not.”

At the center of the controversy are results from standardized tests in math and reading that were designed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The results were used to calculate grades for each district.

After a year, the Ohio General Assembly dropped its $26.5 million contract with PARCC amid concerns about its validity and length and the time required to administer it. A new $26.6 million contract to create the tests was awarded to the American Institutes for Research, which tested Ohio’s students in Social Studies and Science last year. Additionally, the state created a safe harbor, which holds districts, teachers and students harmless on the 2015 Report Card.

“Every grade on these report cards is tainted by unverified, arbitrary, poorly designed and implemented tests that have been thrown out by the Ohio legislature,” said state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo), who serves as ranking minority member on the House Education Committee. “The flaws are so pervasive that the grades on the Ohio School Report Cards should not be counted for anything. The state calls it a safe harbor, which should lead one to question: Why are there report cards at all?”

Another point of contention for many superintendents is that the testing results were released so late that they are not useful for informing instruction this school year. Results are typically released in August or September, but late delivery of PARCC results pushed the timeline back.

“Granted this is February and the school year is more than half over, but there is no reason districts can’t use this information to tell them whether they’re getting the job done,” Tom Gunlock, president of the Ohio Board of Education, said. “Report cards are supposed to tell districts where their strengths and weaknesses are, so they can determine where resources need to go. I don’t think there is anything different about this year’s reports.”

Others, however, defended the results of the report cards as an accurate measure of how well districts have adjusted to the state’s new, more rigorous standards.

“We believe the data itself is valid and shows how well districts are keeping pace, while adjusting to a new, raised expectations,” said Chris Woolard, senior executive director at the Ohio Department of Education. “Traditionally high–performing schools tend to do really well on achievement, but it’s important to look at whether they [are] successful in helping students make progress.”

Spreadsheets for district and school grades on areas of student and school performance, including how students are performing on state achievement tests, how successful districts are at reducing the gaps in academic achievement and graduation rates can be found at http://reportcard.education.ohio.gov.

Report cards for 2016 are expected to be released no later than Sept. 15, 2016.

Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com. She can be followed at www.twitter.com/ColetteMJenkins. Staff writer Doug Livingston contributed to this report.