Ohio Gadfly Daily

Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O’Donnell was given access to a Pearson test-grading facility in suburban central Ohio recently and filed a series of reports from inside its walls. The tone of the pieces is reminiscent of that M*A*S*H episode when the newsreel reporter interviews the frontline medical staff. It is painstaking work in a high-pressure environment, but it is important and must be done with diligence and a touch of humor. Like the sign in the office says:

First up, O’Donnell runs us through the basics of the operation. Most graders tackle one question only, scoring the same one for hundreds of students in a shift; “anchor” examples show the basic form the correct answer should take; and there is selective double-checking of live scorers’ work.

Then there is a look at who has been hired to do the scoring work for Pearson this year. Some 72 percent of all their test graders nationwide have some teaching experience. And yes, some of them were hired via Craigslist.

Finally, while O’Donnell has a reputation as a thorough reporter on his own, he decides to open up the floor to Plain...

  1. Our own Aaron Churchill was on the radio this morning, discussing last week’s Achieve report on the gap between state proficiency scores and NAEP scores. Quick but interesting discussion. (WTVN-AM, Columbus, 5/18/15)
     
  2. The Beacon Journal started out taking a look at single-gender classrooms and schools in the Akron area. Along the way, issues such as pay gaps, involuntary teacher transfers, societal norms, class differences, and discipline statistics piled up in an overegged but still interesting piece. (Akron Beacon Journal, 5/16/15)
     
  3. We told you last week about a Franklin County neighborhood petitioning the state board of ed to be rezoned away from South-Western City Schools and into Upper Arlington Schools. Why are those Columbus households in South-Western to begin with? The infamous Win-Win agreement from the 1980s, by which the city of Columbus was allowed to continue to annex the hinterlands and grow but neighborhoods already in other districts prior to 1986 were not required to send their children to Columbus City Schools. In exchange, Columbus has gotten money from those districts every year. But a new effort by Dublin City Schools to end the decades-old agreement is gaining steam…and generating some heat. (Columbus Dispatch, 5/17/15)
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  1. We start today with coverage of Chad’s testimony before the Senate Finance Education Subcommittee earlier this week. In which he urged Senators considering the new state budget to not let “safe harbor” considerations for schools extend to an EdChoice Scholarship voucher eligibility freeze. He was not alone in these sentiments. (Gongwer Ohio, 5/14/15)
     
  2. Editors in Cleveland opined favorably on Fordham’s most recent report – School Closure and Student Achievement. This is especially important because folks in Cleveland know only too well the difficulties of closing schools for even the soundest of reasons. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/14/15)
     
  3. You probably couldn’t have missed it yesterday, but just in case you did, Achieve released a report looking at the gaps between state proficiency scores and NAEP results in all 50 states. Ohio fared poorly indeed, indicative of a shaky definition of “proficiency” in the Buckeye State. Chad said this loudly and clearly and was included in coverage of the report in the Columbus Dispatch (5/14/15), the Bucyrus Telegraph (5/15/15) and other Gannett outlets, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer (5/14/15).
     
  4. The Beacon Journal’s coverage of the Achieve report didn’t include Chad, but it did include
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Are states dutifully reporting the fraction of students who are on track for college or career? According to a new report from Achieve, a nonprofit organization that assists states in education reform efforts, the answer is no—and Ohio has been one of the worst offenders.

The report documents the discrepancies between proficiency rates on state tests versus the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). Achieve’s analysis finds that most states “continue to mislead the public on whether students are proficient” by reporting proficiency rates on state assessments that are significantly higher than those on NAEP. This is a serious problem since NAEP—commonly referred to as the Nation’s Report Card—has long been considered the gold standard of measuring student achievement and, more recently, college preparedness. As Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Chester Finn explained a few weeks ago, there’s now good evidence that NAEP’s proficiency level in reading is particularly predictive of whether students are ready to succeed in college without taking remedial courses.

Ohio’s longstanding definition of proficiency, on the other hand, is predictive of nothing, as far as we can tell. It certainly doesn’t indicate that a student is on track for college. But that’s surely what parents...

  1. Here’s a tale of two districts for you. High-flying Amherst Schools is pretty bent out of shape over the D grade they received in their very first K-3 Literacy Improvement Measure report. Meanwhile, Lorain Schools – currently being overseen by an Academic Distress Commission – is thrilled with their grade of C on the same measure. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal, 5/10/15)
     
  2. Just to up the ante, here’s a tale of THREE districts. A subdivision of 23 homes in central Ohio is geographically situated in Columbus, but due to fallout from the 1970s annexing boom around here, the school district assignment zone for them is not the local district but South-Western City Schools. There are 10 school age children currently in the neighborhood. None of them attend South-Western, but the district treasurer knows just how much property tax these houses generate for his district. That is, exactly how much property tax his district would lose if residents are successful in their efforts to get themselves rezoned for tony Upper Arlington City Schools. Which, one assumes, they WILL attend if they are successful. The residents appear to have the support of the State Board of Education in their efforts
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Recently I had the privilege of listening to practitioners from Ohio’s high-performing districts who shared how they’re achieving success. These districts are earning A grades on their state report cards in notoriously difficult areas such as closing achievement gaps, effectively serving gifted students and students with disabilities, and increasing student achievement across the board. 

The series of events was hosted by Battelle for Kids in conjunction with the Ohio Department of Education, and I was able to hear from five of the exemplary districts: Marysville, Orange City, Oak Hills Local, Solon City, and Mechanicsburg. Here are the important commonalities I found among the strategies discussed.

1. Plus time

This strategy goes by a different name depending on which district you visit: “no-new-instruction time,” “flex time,” “plus time,” and “support classes” were all terms I heard, but the basic idea was the same. Each of these high flyers altered their daily schedule so that students received around forty minutes a day of either enrichment or remediation. To be clear, this isn’t an additional class in which students learn new information; instead, this is a time for...

  1. Here’s a pretty up-to-date status report on standardized testing in Ohio. Sure, parts of the story are given “juice” by the use of some loaded terms (“controversial”, “scrap”, “confusing”, “a mess”), but let’s not quibble over questions of authorial intent. Let’s just be glad of all the attention being paid to testing. For the sake of student achievement, because that’s what all of the interview subjects have as their bottom line interest. Right? (Cincinnati Enquirer, 5/8/15)
     
  2. As if Patrick O’Donnell’s series on his visit to a Pearson testing facility in Westerville couldn’t get any more interesting, he concluded by answering some specific reader queries on the how’s and why’s of grading standardized tests without a computer. Honestly, the questions folks wanted answered were almost more interesting than the answers themselves. There’s so much to unpack in a question like “How many breaks are they given to get refreshed since each score means so much to each student?”. Still no answer to my puzzler: “What kinds of snacks are provided for said refreshment, since #brainfood?” (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/9/15)
     
  3. Meanwhile, in the oldies-but-goodies department, editors in Columbus opined yesterday on the vital need for students to
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Much attention has been paid to why teachers quit. Statistics and studies get thrown around, and there are countless theories to explain the attrition rate. While recent reports indicate that the trend might not be as bad as we’ve thought, teacher attrition isn’t just about whole-population numbers—it’s about retaining the most effective teachers within those numbers. Indeed, a 2012 study from TNTP (formerly known as the New Teacher Project) notes that our failure to improve teacher retention is largely a matter of failing to retain the right teachers. A separate study suggests that retaining the best teachers is all about reducing barriers that make teachers feel powerless and isolated. The 2014 National Teacher of the Year recently pointed out that, among myriad other causes, lacking influence in their own schools and districts (let alone in state policy) is often at the root of teacher attrition.

Keeping high-performers in the classroom has long been a trouble spot for schools. “If you don’t offer leadership opportunities for teachers to excel in their profession, to grow, and still allow them to stay in the classroom,” says Ruthanne Buck, senior advisor to Secretary of...

  1. Our own Aaron Churchill was on the radio in Columbus yesterday, talking about our new report School Closures and Student Achievement. Big thanks to host Joel Riley for having us. (WTVN-AM, Columbus, 5/7/15)
     
  2. Blast from the past. Former Fordhamite Terry Ryan spoke to statewide public radio this week, discussing the history of charter schools in Ohio. With audio link in case you miss Terry’s dulcet tones. Nice. (StateImpact Ohio, 5/6/15)
     
  3. Fast-forward to today, when editors in Columbus opine (again) in favor of charter law reform in Ohio. Now. (Columbus Dispatch, 5/8/15)
     
  4. Reference is made in that Dispatch op-ed to bills being debated in the Ohio General Assembly on charter school law reform. No less than three bills contain vital elements of reform. On Wednesday, Bellwether Partners’ Andy Smarick testified before a Senate subcommittee on one of those bills. But, honestly, he could have been speaking of them all: “If they can implement the law well and hold their sponsors accountable, evidence from other states suggests this will put Ohio on the right track.” You can check out coverage of all the testimony from that session – which included not only Smarick but also representatives
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Editor's note: On May 6, Fordham contributor Andy Smarick delivered testimony before an Ohio education subcommittee on Senate Bill 148, a critical piece of legislation that would help clean up the state's troubled charter sector. With his permission, we're reproducing his remarks.

Thank you Chair Hite, Vice Chair Sawyer, and subcommittee members for allowing me to offer some thoughts on your ongoing efforts to improve charter schooling in Ohio. Congratulations and thank you for the important progress that’s reflected in the legislation being considered here today.

My name is Andy Smarick, and I’m a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization committed to improving K–12 schooling, especially for high-need students. I’ve worked on education policy for most of my career—at the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. House of Representatives, a state department of education, and a state legislature.

I’m also a strong advocate for high-quality charter schooling. I helped start a charter school for low-income students, I helped found the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and I’ve written extensively about charter schooling, including a book on how—when done right—it can dramatically improve student results in cities.

I was a coauthor of the report published late...

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