The Buckeye State’s new A-F report card is a wonderful opportunity for parents to gain a better appreciation of how their child’s school is doing, and to take action if necessary. This August, Ohio switched to a conventional A-F letter grading system to report (public) school and district performance. The A-F grades provide a clear and transparent way of reporting whether a school is academically strong, weak, or somewhere in between.
But with nine (!) indicators of school performance in play (and more to come), parents also need to know which of the letter grades are the most crucial to understand, and how they ought to interpret them. (Ohio will not issue an “overall” A-F letter grade to schools and districts until August 2015.)
So, how is a parent to understand the state’s new school report cards? To start, let’s begin with the two big questions that parents likely want to know about their child’s school (or potential school).
1.) Is the typical student in my child’s school achieving at a high-level?
2.) Is my child’s school helping students learn?
There are two key A-F letter grades that answer these questions.
To answer question one, parents should look towards a school’s performance index A-F rating. The performance index letter grade indicates how well a school’s students perform on Ohio’s standardized exams. Hence, this is the key gauge of raw student achievement within a school.
By looking at the performance index rating, parents can gain a sense of whether their child’s classmates are generally doing well, middling, or struggling academically. A school rated an “A,” for example, is a place with many high achieving students, while an “F”-rated school has many students whose academic achievement is low.
To answer question two, parents should look towards a school’s overall value-added A-F rating. This is the key indicators of whether a school is contributing to student learning progress. Value-added based on a statistical model that gets at whether a school is helping the typical student attain more, less, or the expected amount of knowledge that can be reasonably expected of her during a school year.
In short, this letter grade allows parents to know whether their child’s school is “doing its job” or “being effective.” Under value-added, an “A”-rated school is helping students make atypically large learning gains over the course of a school year, whereas an “F”-rated school is having a relatively weak impact on student learning.
Many of Ohio’s schools do well on both the performance index (“achievement”) and the overall value-added (“progress”) indicators. For example, nearly half of Ohio’s school districts (290 out of 610) earned a “B” or above on both key dimensions of school performance. If your child attends a school or district that has earned an A or B letter grade on both indicators, rest assured, the quality of your child’s school is fairly good on the whole.
However, if you are a parent—perhaps a parent in an urban or rural area—you may find “mixed” ratings. What if your child’s school is rated a “D” on the “performance index” indicator, but an “A” on the “value-added”?
Foremost, you should understand that the achievement level in your school is dismal, even unacceptable. If you have the means to transfer your child to a higher-rated “performance index” school, by all means, it is advisable to switch. But, if you cannot switch or if you have no better schooling option in your vicinity, you should recognize that your child’s school is making a noble effort to help children learn.
Now, if your child attends a school with a low rating on both indicators (“D’s” and “F’s”), the school is failing academically. If you care about your child’s academic success, it may be the time for a switch. Ohio provides scholarships for eligible children to attend a private school. If that doesn’t appeal, there may be a high-performing charter school, or a magnet program or an “alternative” (i.e., lottery-based admissions) school within your district in which you could enroll your child.
Finally, parents should be aware that Ohio’s new school report cards include ratings for three student “subgroups”: students with disabilities, gifted students, and very low-achieving students. Parents who have a child with a special need (a mental or physical handicap), a child who has been identified as “gifted,” or a child who struggles academically, should pay attention to a school’s A-F letter grades for these subgroups.
In Fordham’s recent report What Parents Want, we found that parents’ main concern is whether their child’s school is academically “good.” And, Ohio’s new A-F school report cards give parents just what they want, in terms of academic information. By examining a school’s performance index and overall value-added A-F letter grades, parents can gain a clearer understanding about whether their child is in a school with high-achievers (or not) and whether their child’s school is making progress (or not) in helping kids learn.
Every parent-child-school situation is different, of course. Selecting the right school for a child sometimes goes beyond academics (e.g., sports, friendships, after-school programs, etc.). Nevertheless, in general, for parents of children who attend a great academic school, they ought to celebrate their school’s success (if not their own child’s success). For parents in failing schools, we hope Ohio’s new A-F report cards will motivate them to explore better schooling opportunities.
For a detailed analysis of Ohio’s new report cards, see our publication Parsing Performance: Analysis of Ohio’s New A-F School Report Cards.
A version of this blog can also be found at School Choice Ohio's website.