Grading Ohio’s Schools

Ohio’s school district report card system is as useless as a cat-flap on an elephant house. The recent revisions to the system didn’t fix it, they just changed how the system is broken.

I can’t speak for every charter, dropout recovery program, or “Big 8” urban district, but I can talk about ECOT. The typical ECOT student is below the poverty line, and came to ECOT because traditional schools weren’t working for them. Many ECOT students have been victims of bullying or crime. Many are parents, and some work full-time to help support a family. ECOT is not a dropout recovery charter, but in many ways ECOT’s high school functions like one. For the typical ECOT student, ECOT represents the student’s last, best chance at earning a high school diploma.

Many students come to ECOT partway through high school, having earned very few high school credits. ECOT doesn’t turn anyone away, and often accepts second-semester seniors who have no hope of graduating on time. Many of these students eventually earn a high school diploma from ECOT, but they count against ECOT’s 4-year graduation rate even though they were only at ECOT for the twilight of their 4-year graduation window.

Furthermore, the value-added score on Ohio’s district report cards — the measure of how effectively districts educate their students relative to where the students were at the beginning of the year, instead of in absolute terms — is so opaque that districts and charters often don’t know how they earned the score they did, or how to improve it, making the score meaningless. The methodology for computing this score is a proprietary, private-sector, out-of-state “black box” that very few at the Ohio Department of Education have access to. Taxpayers have no access at all.

Sadder still, the single best indicator of district performance on Ohio’s report cards is the percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch; i.e., students in poverty. That districts and charters could be punished by the Department of Education for serving a high proportion of poor students is shameful.

The report cards measure the hand a district is dealt, not how well the district plays its hand. Ohio deserves a better system, so taxpayers, students, teachers, and parents can see how their school districts are really performing. A better system would include meaningful, transparent value-added metrics, and must take into account students’ socioeconomic conditions.

Published on on 8 February 2016.

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