A-F report card

NOTE: The Education and Career Readiness Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives today heard testimony on HB 591, a proposal that would make changes to Ohio’s school report cards. Fordham’s Chad Aldis was a witness at this hearing and these are his written remarks.

Thank you, Chair Brenner, Vice Chair Slaby, Ranking Member Fedor, and House Education Committee members for the opportunity to provide testimony today in opposition to House Bill 591.

My name is Chad Aldis, and I am the Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The Fordham Institute is an education-focused nonprofit that conducts research, analysis, and policy advocacy with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C.

Strong, transparent school performance information is a key element to creating a high-performing educational system. It can be used to ensure excellent schools are properly recognized and rewarded for their success. It’s also critical in order for local communities and (when necessary) the state to identify chronically low-performing schools where children are grade levels behind and making no discernable progress. This allows the provision of targeted resources to schools in the greatest need of improvement. For this reason, many civil rights and...

 
 

Heated debate has erupted over changes to Ohio’s new standards, assessments, and accountability policies. Most significantly, the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics has triggered efforts to roll back the new standards and the assessments associated with them. In addition to the Common Core, the state is undertaking other bold but controversial reforms, including the Third Grade Reading Guarantee—aimed at improving early literacy—and evaluations of teachers and principals that factor in student achievement.

These policy reforms reflect a shifting paradigm in K-12 education. For years, it was assumed that schools would provide an adequate education for all students. Since the early 2000s, prodded by federal law, states adopted policies whereby students have been required to meet “proficiency” benchmarks on state tests. This policy framework has moved the achievement needle forward: Disadvantaged students, for one, have demonstrated gains over the past decade on national assessments.

Yet the academic standards in Ohio and in many states across the nation remained too low, and student outcomes mediocre. The minimum expectations for what students should know and be able to do failed to match the demands of colleges and employers. As a result, Ohio and other...

 
 

Ohio’s school and district report cards were released last week, nearly a month later than originally scheduled due to inclement weather….back in February and March. No matter; they’re here now and every education stakeholder is poring over them. But to what purpose are these troves of data being put? 

Out of the gate, stories in the media focused on the “big picture” issues: urban districts (pretty bad, with some rays of hope) and dropout recovery schools (same, minus most of those rays of hope). A single grade for “overall performance” is still not being given this year but should be available in 2016. That left analysts digging through a variety of indicators at all levels. Performance index scores, value-added calculations (very confusing), graduation rates, and other factors were considered, either in isolation or in tandem, producing very different conclusions depending on how the measures were parsed or weighted by the investigators. It is tempting to say that certain foregone conclusions were bolstered by the ways in which data were considered or not considered, but perhaps it is more accurate to say that getting an analysis of such a wealth of information out the...

 
 

On September 12th, Ohio released school report-card ratings for the 2013-14 school year. This report compiles and analyzes the statewide data, with special attention given to the quality of public schools in the Ohio Big Eight urban areas: Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown (both district and charter school sectors). Using the state’s key report-card measures, the performance-index and value-added ratings, we assess the overall quality of each public school receiving these ratings in these areas—and calculate the number of students in high-quality seats in each area.

The key findings:

  • There are too few high-quality seats in Ohio’s urban areas. On average, just 16 percent of public-school seats—including both district and charter—were high-quality in the Big Eight. In contrast, 36 percent of public-school seats were low-quality.
  • High-quality seats by sector: A higher proportion of charter seats were high quality (22 percent) compared to district seats (13 percent) in the Big Eight urban areas.
  • Low-quality seats by sector: A slightly lower proportion of charter seats were low quality (32 percent) compared to district seats (38 percent) in the Big Eight urban areas.

There is also variation in the performance of the charter-school sectors across the Big Eight....

OASBO’s recent analysis of school performance shouldn’t shock anyone. A school’s overall student achievement level, the Ohio Association of School Business Officers found, is linked to economic disadvantage. No kidding! One could practically uproot a forest printing the research that has shown the link between poverty and achievement.

But as we lament the generally low achievement results of Ohio’s neediest students, let’s not ignore the fact that there are schools that do fantastic work helping Ohio’s most disadvantaged students achieve at high levels and/or make large learning gains (aka, “progress”) over the course of the school year. (For a more extended discussion about the differences in “achievement” and “progress,” read our recent analysis of Ohio’s school Report Cards, Parsing Performance.)

Consider chart 1, which shows yet again the relationship between poverty and student achievement. The trend line through the scatter plot of points (each point represents a school building) slopes sharply downwards. This indicates that a school with a higher poverty rate is also more likely to exhibit lower achievement, as measured by Ohio’s “performance index”—a weighted composite score that accounts for all test scores from a school.

But look, however, at the far right portion of the...

 
 

This August, Ohio issued for the first time conventional A through F school grades along nine indicators of school performance. The new A-F school report cards follow Florida’s pioneering example of A-F accountability, and Ohio joins 9 other states which have implemented A-F report cards. Over the course of the next three years, the Buckeye State will incorporate several additional indicators of school performance, and starting in August 2015, Ohio will issue “overall” A-F letter grades for its schools and districts.

Parsing Performance, Fordham's annual analysis of Ohio's school performance, examines the state's new report cards and uncovers the two keys to school performance: a school's achievement and its progress ratings. The progress grade (Overall Value-Added) measures the impact a school has on student-learning progress over the course of the school year. The achievement grade (Performance Index) is a one-year snapshot of whether students within a school are attaining basic academic skills and on track for academic success.

Statewide, achievement A's were more difficult to earn than progress A's. Among Ohio’s 610 traditional school districts, 46 percent received A grades on progress, but only 4 percent received A grades on achievement in the 2012-13 school year. The numbers were similar for Ohio’s charter...