Ohio Policy

Ohio’s draft plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) came out earlier this month, and we at Fordham continue...
Under federal and state law, Ohio policy makers are responsible for gauging and reporting on the performance of its 3,000 public...
In early February, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) released the first draft of its state plan for the Every Student...
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On February 2, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) released the first draft of its state plan to comply with the Every Student...
Ohio just released its draft ESSA plan . While there’s much to applaud , the state’s proposals for improving the most chronically...
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Jack Archer
NOTE: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute occasionally publishes guest commentaries on its blogs. The views expressed by guest...
“Winners never quit and quitters never win.” There's a lot of truth in that cliché, but it doesn't seem to apply to education...
One of the hallmarks of school accountability is the identification of and intervention in persistently low-preforming schools...
Parents make choices about their child’s schooling based on a variety of factors: location, safety, convenience, academics,...
Ohio House Bill 2 (HB 2) was signed into law on November 1, 2015. It was a landmark piece of legislation that significantly...
Jack Archer
NOTE: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute occasionally publishes guest commentaries on its blogs. The views expressed by guest...
Education Week just issued its twenty-first “Quality Counts” report card for states . Ohio’s grades are so-so —and nearly...
The 2015–16 school year was one of transition in Ohio. New state assessments (again), new charter sponsor evaluations, and even a...

Under federal and state law, Ohio policy makers are responsible for gauging and reporting on the performance of its 3,000 public schools and 600 districts. To do this, Ohio has a report card system that assigns A-F grades based on a variety of performance indicators. While Ohio does not currently roll up these disparate component grades into a final “summative” rating, in 2017-18, the Buckeye State will join thirty-nine other states that do just that.

Why summative grades? They are intended to accomplish a number of purposes, including improving the transparency of complicated rating systems, helping families decide where to send their child to school, and guiding local decision making on which schools need the most help and which deserve recognition. With the importance placed upon these overall ratings, it is critical to examine the grading formula that Ohio policy makers will use to calculate schools’ final letter grades—specifically the weights assigned to each element of the school report card.

Current weights

Ohio law requires the State Board of Education to create the summative school rating formula within two key parameters: 1) it must include all six main components of the state report card; and 2) it must equally weight the Progress and Achievement dimensions. Set forth in administrative code, the state board has established weights for each component as displayed in the table below. When a component is absent for a school—e.g., K-3 Literacy wouldn’t apply to a high school—the existing weights are adjusted in a way that maintains proportional relationships between the components.

Table 1: Ohio’s overall school-rating weights

Are these weights fair?

The central problem with Ohio’s current system of weights is that five out of six components are highly correlated with student demographics or prior achievement. This creates an uneven accountability system that strongly favors high-income schools while disadvantaging low-income ones. In effect, Ohio’s state report card punishes schools simply for serving needy children while giving accolades to those with less disadvantaged pupils.

Using Ohio’s component A-F grades from 2015-16, the tables below demonstrate the extent of the problem.

Table 2: Distribution of A-F school ratings on Ohio’s report card components, 2015-16

Consider the following observations:

  • Over 90 percent of high-poverty schools received Ds or Fs on four report-card components: Achievement (94%), Gap Closing (99%), Prepared for Success (95%), and K-3 Literacy (92%). The comparable D or F grades for low-poverty schools are much lower, ranging from 21 percent on Prepared for Success to 73 percent on Gap Closing. These patterns are predictable, given the achievement gaps between low-income students and their peers on state and college admissions exams.
  • Graduation rates for low-income students have historically lagged those posted by high-income students. This means that the Graduation Rate component also correlates with demographics: 68 percent of high-poverty schools received a D or F, while just 2 percent of low-poverty schools were assigned such grades.

Meanwhile, the Progress component—value added or student growth—is the one measure in which high-poverty schools can and do perform well. Consider Table 3, which shows that 32 percent of Ohio’s high-poverty schools received an A or B, while 48 percent received a D or F—a less skewed distribution of grades relative to the other components. Ohio’s growth measure is designed to be more poverty-neutral, leading to the different distribution of grades.

Table 3: Distribution of A-F grades on Ohio’s Progress component, 2015-16

Taken together, the five demographically correlated components will constitute 80 percent of a school district’s grade and anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of a school’s grade depending upon the grades served. Meanwhile, just 20 to 30 percent will be based on Progress—or student growth—a measure independent of demographics or prior achievement.[1]      

As a result, the weighting system developed by the State Board will assign almost all high-poverty schools a D or F grade. This is not only inaccurate—there are excellent high-poverty schools—but could also have unintended consequences such as: a) misleading school-shopping families about the quality of their options; b) subjecting high-performing, high-poverty schools to intrusive interventions; c) failing to recognize or reward high-performers; d) discouraging educators (and students) in high-poverty schools who start to believe that the grading system—no matter what—results in them being deemed failing.

A weighting proposal

Ohio policy makers should reweight the overall school-grading formula in the way that places more emphasis on growth. Table 4 displays my proposal for reweighting the various components.[2]

Table 4: Proposed summative grading formula

This proposal would make three key changes in Ohio’s weighting system. It would:

  • Increase the weight on Progress, the component that houses Ohio’s student growth measures. Several other states already place disproportionate weight on their growth measures, and according to surveys of Ohio parents, growth is viewed as a very useful gauge of school quality.
  • Reduce the weight on Gap Closing, Graduation (in district accountability), and K-3 Literacy. These measures that have challenges, notwithstanding their correlation with demographics. For example, the problems with graduation rates include improper assignment of blame or credit for graduation/non-graduation in certain cases and they are open to “gaming” through shoddy credit recovery programs. K-3 Literacy has challenges, too. For instance, it relies on district-selected assessments and the rigor of such exams could vary, giving some districts a slight advantage if they administer a less demanding test.
  • Differentiate more clearly the grading formula for K-8 and high schools. Growth should account for somewhat less weight in high school accountability, primarily because students are drawing close to taking their next step in life. Hence, indicators of readiness for post-high school success become increasingly critical.

* * *

There is no one scientifically correct way to determine school grading weights. It will ultimately come down to judgments on issues of what we prioritize and value, how technically sound an indicator is (all measures have their challenges including, yes, value added), how we think certain measures will affect behavior, and how we think about fairness to schools and to students. Yet we must acknowledge that not all report card measures are of equal or similar importance—which appears to be one of the assumptions behind Ohio’s current weighting approach. Buckeye policy makers should revisit these summative weights and work toward prioritizing student growth in the accountability system.

[1] A K-8 school would not have high-school specific components (Graduation Rate and Prepared for Success) and the weights would be as follows: 72.5% on Achievement, Gap Closing, and K-3 Literacy combined and 27.5% on Progress. A grade 9-12 high school would have 77% combined weight on Achievement, Gap Closing, Prepared for Success, and Graduation Rate and a 23% weight on Progress. See pg. 3 of this ODE document for the various permutations in the absence of a component(s).

[2] To implement changes such as this, Ohio legislators would need to repeal the statutory clause mandating equal weight on Achievement and Progress [ORC 3302.03(C)(3)(f)]. Then, the State Board of Education would need to adopt new rules for the new weighting system.

Ohio’s draft plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) came out earlier this month, and we at Fordham continue to analyze it and offer our thoughts. In a previous article, I argued that Ohio’s plans for improving low-performing schools were underwhelming. But there is an even more worrisome set of details worth pointing out and rectifying—namely that Ohio’s proposal will likely result in a vast number of schools and districts being labeled as failing and routed into a burdensome and ineffective corrective action process.

For starters, Ohio’s ESSA plan moves beyond what’s required by law when it comes to identifying “low-performing” schools. Federal law requires states to have at least two buckets for school improvement—comprehensive support and targeted support (or the equivalent of what Ohio is naming “priority” and “focus” schools, respectively). The law is direct in spelling out how states should place schools in either category (see Table 1).

Table 1: ESSA requirements

Now take a look at Ohio’s proposed criteria below.

Table 2: Ohio’s proposed implementation of ESSA’s requirements

There are several problems with this approach. First and most glaringly, Ohio opted to add a third category to the mix: “watch” schools, nebulously defined in ODE’s plan as “schools that struggle to meet the needs of one or more student subgroup(s) as outlined in state law.” Ohio should clarify what this means or consider scrapping the category altogether, as it’s not necessary under ESSA and the state has already cast a wide net in terms of identifying priority and focus schools. Specifically, the inclusion of the gap-closing measure as a way to determine eligibility for targeted support does not inspire confidence based on current grades. Ninety-three percent of Ohio districts earned a D or an F on gap-closing in 2015-16, with the vast majority of those (87 percent) getting an F. Only two districts in the entire state earned an A.

To be fair, it appears that Ohio is changing its gap closing calculation—to fall more in line with recommendations that my colleague Aaron explored here last year. Still, until the new metric is fully rolled out, Ohio may want to tread carefully in tying sanctions to the gap-closing grade. It could also lengthen the timeframe to three consecutive years or make some of these qualifiers “and” (instead of “or”).

Ohio’s plan for identifying low-performers becomes even more worrisome when considering the implications for districts. Take a look at the table below—copied directly from Ohio’s ESSA plan. ESSA requires that states provide “technical assistance” to districts that serve a significant number of schools identified for support, which includes review by the state, quarterly or biannual improvement plans, submission of student outcome data, and more.

Given that the overall report card calculation relies disproportionately on factors that correlate with demographics and relatively little on student growth, it’s likely that most low-income districts will find themselves in intensive support. By my rough estimate, about twenty districts—primarily those located in Ohio’s cities or inner-ring suburbs—would fall into intensive support status. That’s about three percent of Ohio districts.

But if future scores are anything like current scores, the inclusion of the gap closing measure will place a vast majority of schools into intensive or moderate support status. And any district with just one identified school whatsoever—even an ambiguously identified “watch” school—will be placed on the support spectrum.

Rather than going deep and requiring intensive, dramatic change among its very lowest-performing schools, Ohio appears to have taken the opposite approach to school improvement—wide and shallow. By adding a new, non-required “watch” status for schools and creating multiple (very likely) scenarios for districts to fall on the support continuum, there’s a very real chance that just about everyone will have to succumb to improvement plans. This dilutes energy and resources and is not a reasonable ask, nor will it yield benefits for most of the schools asked to undergo it. New compliances processes and burdensome paperwork create extra work for everyone involved—both the state and the schools and districts under monitoring. The extra workload is all the more unbearable give Ohio’s currently proposed scattershot strategy for improving schools.  

There are chronically low-performing schools in urgent need of attention, where kids are losing their one opportunity to get an excellent education. These are the schools (and districts) that ODE should focus its efforts on—the lowest five percent or perhaps even one percent of schools—in a concentrated strategy to raise student outcomes. 

It’s budget season in Ohio, and that means plenty of debates about school funding and other education policy issues. Buried deep in the legislative language is a short provision about teacher licensure that’s garnering a whole lot of pushback—as it should. Here’s the legislative language: “Beginning September 1, 2018, the state board of education’s rules for the renewal of educator licenses shall require each applicant for renewal of a license to complete an on-site work experience with a local business or chamber of commerce as a condition of renewal.”

In Ohio, teacher licenses are renewed every five years. Although the requirements vary depending on the license, renewal typically involves six semester hours of coursework related to classroom teaching or the area of a teacher’s licensure and 18 continuing education units. If this proposal becomes law, completing an externship at a local business will become part of the process.

The intentions behind this requirement are good: Governor Kasich is trying to actuate a recommendation made by his executive workforce board, which wants to “help business connect with schools, and to help teachers connect with strategies to prepare their students for careers.” This is a worthy goal to be sure—all of us, no matter our profession, benefit from wider perspectives—but requiring all teachers to complete an externship won’t ensure that they’re able to advise students on their myriad career opportunities. Here are a few reasons why this provision shouldn’t become law.

  1. Externships are too infrequent. Ohio teachers renew their licenses every five years, which means that if this provision becomes law, teachers will only complete an externship once every five years. When talking to the Plain Dealer about the requirement, Kasich’s Office of Workforce Transformation Director Ryan Burgess specifically mentioned how quickly the workforce and in-demand jobs change. If this is true, then it begs the question how a single externship once every five years could possibly keep teachers up to date on the newest pathways available to students—especially in areas like technology and health care, where innovation is the name of the game. To be clear, I’m not arguing that teachers should be required to complete an externship every year. I’m just pointing out that if we need to end the disconnect between businesses, educators, and schools, an externship once every five years isn’t going to do it.
  2. Externships won’t help teachers talk to all their students about careers. I taught high school English, and I had plenty of conversations with students about careers. Some of these conversations were based on my personal experiences and knowledge, and some of them involved working with students to research options. Very few of these conversations would have improved had I been required to complete an externship. This is because my students had such a wide range of interests: An externship at a local steel plant might have helped me talk to my kids about careers in the steel industry, but if none of my students were interested in working in the steel industry, my time would have been wasted and their questions wouldn’t have been answered.  
  3. Elementary and some middle school teachers won’t benefit the way high school teachers may. The conversations I had with my students about careers were most likely not the same conversations that elementary and middle school teachers have with their students, and rightfully so—students need different things at different ages. Teacher licensure requirements should reflect what teachers need to know to teach specific subjects at specific grade levels. A one-size-fits-all provision that requires all teachers to complete an externship won’t benefit the majority of teachers, or more importantly, students.
  4. It will probably become a check-box compliance item. Teachers already bear important responsibilities, such as preparing lessons, grading students’ work, communicating with parents, leading extracurricular activities, handling sensitive disciplinary matters, keeping current with research on effective pedagogical practices, and mentoring teachers new to the profession. Given these priorities, it’s a bit naive to think that classroom teachers will immerse themselves in another profession. Instead, it’ll probably become another go-through-the-motions compliance item that teachers do every five years.

This provision is a response to a very real disconnect between schools and the workplace. But there are ways to address that disconnect other than adding to the already full plates of educators. For instance, the provision could be amended to make externships an option—but not a requirement—for teachers to earn continuing education credits. The state could also invest in bringing businesses into schools rather than sending teachers out—a sort of career day on steroids. This would give students and teachers a chance to interact with business leaders and entrepreneurs firsthand and would showcase a broader menu of potential career pathways than teacher externships ever could.

State lawmakers should definitely consider ways to connect schools and businesses, but requiring externships for all of Ohio’s teachers is over the top. A lot of positive things are already happening across Ohio to help young people understand their career opportunities, and policy makers would do well to build on those types of initiatives instead.  

Since the 1980s, there has been a significant increase in the average age at which women in industrialized nations have their first child. Advanced maternal age, medically defined as ages 35 and up, has in a number of studies shown negative association with infant health, and potentially, development in later life. However, data from three separate birth cohorts in the United Kingdom (1958, 1970, and 2001) indicated a marked increase in the cognitive ability of first-born children over time. At face value, this appears to be a disconnect: Shouldn’t the trend towards later child-bearing correlate to lower cognitive abilities among first-borns? A trio of researchers explored what was behind the unexpected results and recently published their results in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The three birth cohorts were studied separately for different longitudinal research projects and each included more than 16,000 randomly sampled children born in specific windows of time. Cognitive ability of the children was assessed at the ages of 10 or 11 using different tests of verbal cognition depending on the cohort. The researchers in the present study combined the data and standardized the three different test results to ensure the best comparability between the diverse data sources. The most common age range in which women were giving birth in both 1958 and 2001 was 25-29, so that range was chosen as the comparison for the advanced age cohort. The researchers zeroed-in on first-borns in both age ranges. The study included adjustments for socio-demographic characteristics (married or single, income, education at time of birth, etc.) and health behaviors before and after pregnancy.

The results: First children born to younger mothers performed higher than peers born to older mothers in both the 1958 and 1970 cohorts, followed by a complete reversal of that performance outcome for the 2001 cohort.

How can it be that advanced maternal age went from being a negative influence on kids’ cognitive ability to a positive influence in less than 30 years? Although not addressed directly in the study, one part of the answer is likely to be the benefits of living in the 21st century—better medicine, hygiene, and reproductive science included. But the researchers posit that since first-born children typically have access to more maternal resources—both material support and things like attention—the trend toward older first births puts that positive variable ahead of the adverse variable of “advanced maternal age” and leads to the reversal. Additionally, older mothers are more likely to be established in their own education, career, and life, whatever level they have achieved. In short, later first births generally mean smaller ultimate family size, resulting in more resources for children and less competition for those resources down the line. These additional resources are enough to overcome the remaining potential negatives of advanced maternal age.

The researchers caution that their study looked at only a few cohorts in one nation and that more study is needed to better understand the link between timing of child bearing and its impact on later development. If the results are replicated with additional research, however, these findings could help bolster policymakers’ efforts to push adult stability as a key to child academic ability. Perhaps a push like the one proposed in the success sequence could nudge this phenomenon even further.

SOURCE: Alice Goisis, Daniel C. Schneider, Mikko Myrskalä, “The reversing association between advanced maternal age and child cognitive ability: evidence from three UK birth cohorts,” International Journal of Epidemiology (February, 2017).


Ohio’s current approach to school funding (K-12) has several strengths, including its ability to drive more state aid to disadvantaged districts and to add dollars for students with greater educational needs. But in a time when Ohio’s budget – like that of many other states – is stretched thin, policy makers need to ensure that every dollar is being well spent. As state lawmakers debate Ohio’s biennial budget, thoughtful analysis is more important than ever.

We invite you to attend the release event for Fordham’s latest research report, A Formula That Works. Conducted by national education policy experts at Bellwether Education Partners, this analysis is a deep dive into Ohio’s education funding policies and includes several recommendations for improvement. The study touches on questions such as: How well does Ohio’s funding system promote fairness and efficiency to all schools and districts? How can policy makers better ensure that all students have the resources needed to reach their goals? And what are the most critical policy issues that legislators should concentrate on as the budget debate proceeds this spring?

Join us in Columbus as we hear policy recommendations from our new study and discuss ways to improve K-12 funding policy in the Buckeye State.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

8:30 – 10:00 am

The Athletic Club of Columbus
136 E Broad St
Columbus, OH 43215

Doors open at 8:00 am and a light breakfast will be served


Jennifer O'Neal Schiess - Associate Partner, Bellwether Education Partners (report co-author)

MODERATOR AND PANELISTS - To be announced soon 


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