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Wednesday, May 11, 2011
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Bringing Clarity to the Way Ohio Measures Academic Progress
For parents, choosing where to send their children to school is one of the most important decisions they will make. They want their children to have a safe environment in which to learn and grow, and one that will provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and the workforce.
To help parents, school officials and others gauge the academic progress of their local schools, legislators implemented a report card system for school districts in 1997. These annual report cards allow people to evaluate and compare a district’s performance on proficiency tests, attendance and graduation rates. Since then, the system has been modified to take into account changes in state and federal education laws.
Currently, the rankings are determined based on a combination of four factors: student performance on 30 state indicators involving proficiency tests in third through eighth grades and the Ohio Graduation Test as well as attendance and graduation rates; a performance index which measures the achievement of every student during the school year; a value-added measure that reflects how much progress students have made in the past year; and whether or not the district met Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), a federally required measure of reading and math proficiency in 10 student subgroups.
Based on a district’s performance in these areas, they are assigned one of the following rankings: “Excellent with Distinction,” “Excellent,” “Effective,” “Continuous Improvement,” “Academic Watch” or “Academic Emergency.” Parents use these report cards to help determine where they send their children to school and districts rely on the results to help them pass levies.
While I believe we need to hold our schools accountable for ensuring our children are making progress in their education, I feel the current system unfairly punishes high-achieving schools based on the performance of a handful of students. When the annual district report cards for the 2008-2009 school year were released earlier this fall, Lebanon City Schools received a rating of Continuous Improvement –down from its previous Excellent with Distinction designation.
The reason for this drop in the ratings is due to the district failing to meet AYP for reading in two student subgroups – Hispanic and Limited English Proficient – and under the current ranking system, districts that fail to meet AYP for three or more consecutive years can be ranked no higher than “Continuous Improvement,” regardless of their performance in other areas. I spoke with the Ohio Department of Education about this issue, and learned that the two subgroups involved have almost entirely the same students. Simply put, Lebanon is getting penalized twice for the same group of students. This drop in ranking can give parents the impression that a school’s academic quality has dropped, when in fact it has not. A similar situation also occurred this year in the Kettering School District, which qualified for an “Excellent” ranking but was dropped to “Continuous Improvement” due to not meeting AYP in two student subgroups.
A closer look at Lebanon’s report card further highlights this inequity. For the 2008-2009 school year, Lebanon had a 98.1 percent graduation rate, met 29 of 30 state indicators, received a score of 101.6 on the performance index and scored above average for the value-added measure. Another district ranked “Continuous Improvement” for the same year met 0 out of 30 state indicators, received 80.4 on the performance index and did not pass all subgroups for the last three years and failed in seven subgroups this past year. This clearly indicates the current rating system does not provide the accurate, consistent assessment tool that is needed to properly express the academics of a school district.
To address this situation, my colleagues and I in the Senate recently passed Senate Bill 167, which would reform the rating system for Ohio school districts to prevent a school from dropping more than one classification simply for not meeting federal AYP standards for certain subgroups of students. Under Senate Bill 176, schools failing to meet AYP three or more years in a row in the same subgroups may only have their ranking lowered to “Effective” instead of the current “Continuous Improvement.”
Penalizing a successful, high-performing district based on essentially one subgroup failing to meet AYP seems very severe and inequitable – and potentially undermines the confidence placed in this accountability system altogether. Lebanon, by all other categories included on the state report card, is a high performing and very successful school district. This year’s rating of Continuous Improvement does not properly reflect the quality school system in Lebanon and, as a result, can cause great harm to the community. Senate Bill 167, in my opinion, addresses this issue while holding schools accountable and still providing a clear and accurate report of the academic conditions of a school district.
Senate Bill 167 has moved to the Ohio House of Representatives for further discussion, and I am hopeful that it will pass in the coming months so that next year’s school report cards can provide a more accurate picture of student progress and we can avoid situations like those in Lebanon and Kettering.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have questions or concerns about any state-related matter. You can reach my office by phone at (614) 466-9737, by e-mail at SD07@senate.state.oh.us or by writing State Senator Shannon Jones, Ohio Statehouse, 1 Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 43215. I look forward to hearing from you.