Opting out has minimal impact on Ohio school grades

Leading up to this year’s report card release, some school districts expressed concern about the negative impact of students opting out of state assessments on their report card grades. In response, lawmakers proposed a well-intentioned but shortsighted bill attempting to mitigate the impact of opt-outs—first by erasing non-test-takers from their schools’ performance grades and then (after being amended) by reporting two separate Performance Index grades. The Ohio Department of Education devised a temporary reporting solution: Performance Index scores would be reported as normal (including the impact of non-test-takers, as per current law), but a “modified achievement measure” would be made available to illustrate how districts would have scored if non-test-takers didn’t count.

A quick look at the data shows that the impact of opt-outs last year (2014–15) was minimal for the vast majority of Ohio school districts. As depicted in Table 1, fifty-two districts (8.5 percent) experienced a letter grade change because of their non-participation rates (shaded in green). This was most likely driven by the opt-out movement. It’s hard to say for sure, though, because Ohio only captures test participation rates and not the reasons for non-participation—which might include excused or unexcused absences, truancy, or opting out.

After looking at differences between actual, reported Performance Index scores (which include the impact of non-test-takers) and “modified” scores (removing non-test-takers), it becomes apparent that a very small number of districts were significantly impacted. Just thirty-five districts had a difference between scores of 5 percent or greater. Only eleven districts (fewer than 2 percent) were heavily impacted, with Performance Index score differences of 10 percent or greater. Four of those districts were severely impacted with more than one-quarter of students not participating in state testing: Firelands Local, Tri-Valley Local, Centerburg Local, and Marion Local.

Ohio’s overall test participation rate of 99 percent exceeds the federal requirement of 95 percent, which means that the state will avoid a corrective action plan (unlike thirteen other states) or withholding of federal funds. Even though some districts would have their grades lowered, it’s important to note that there were no sanctions or penalties as Ohio schools, and districts remain in safe harbor until 2018. In the meantime, schools must continue to emphasize the importance of state exams and achieving full participation—especially in the handful of communities experiencing worrisome non-participation rates. Families who elect to opt out must realize the ramifications of their decisions—adverse impact on the reputation of schools and their staffs, and the eventual effect this could have on property values—and know that by 2018, opting out in large force could negatively impact their schools and communities.

Table 1: Districts that experienced a letter grade change and/or 5 percent or higher discrepancy between actual Performance Index score and modified score (2014–15)



Jamie Davies O'Leary
Jamie Davies O'Leary is a Senior Ohio Policy Analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. She works with a coalition of high-performing Ohio charter school networks, facilitating their advocacy efforts and providing research and technical assistance.