ICYMI Plain Dealer: State report card...new and lower grades for schools, districts

ICYMI Plain Dealer: State report card...new and lower grades for schools, districts


State report cards on Thursday will have both new and lower grades for schools, districts

Today, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) released the 2015-16 school report cards. The report card being issued mainly reflects students’ performances on last year’s end of course exams for grades 3 - 12.  In the past three years, students have taken three different state tests. The Cleveland Plain Dealer examines ODE’s new ratings and grading techniques.

State report cards on Thursday will have both new and lower grades for schools, districts
By: Patrick O’Donnell
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

State report cards for year two of Ohio's transition to new learning standards and state tests will be released Thursday morning with a few new ratings and with grades coming in significantly lower than normal.

Ohio's using the new multi-state Common Core standards, so expectations of students are higher.

New online state tests add extra challenges - especially since the state fired the PARCC testing consortium that provided the 2014-15 tests and switched to tests from the American Institutes for Research for 2015-16.

And the state is also intentionally setting the test score bar higher for students to be considered "proficient" in a subject than it has in the past.

All of which leads to fewer students, schools and districts receiving high ratings.

In the past, about 75 to 80 percent of students would score as "proficient" in a subject. Preliminary results for this year show less than half of students as proficient in some subjects, with most well under 60 percent.

We'll see on Thursday how grades for schools and districts are affected, In the 2014-15 report cards, districts received 1/6 as many A grades in a key measure as the year before.

Ohio Department of Education officials are urging families to treat these new report cards, just like those for 2014-15 , as a "re-set" of expectations.

"We have a system in transition," said Paolo Demaria, the state's new superintendent, stressing that the state will not compare grades from year to year. "I have been telling people it's really not comparable."

He reinforced this message in a presentation to the state school board this week.

"Some measures – like the Achievement measure – can't be compared to last year," his PowerPoint to the board reads. "We shouldn't jump to conclusions. Schools are improving and will continue to do so.

Improvement does not show up clearly, given the changes on the report card.

Demaria also said that there's a clear pattern whenever the state changes tests.

"We know what happens," he said. "The numbers go down. People are trying to get used to new things. Then the system steps up."

Once schools adjust to expectations, he said, scores rise over time.

A state guide to the report cards is below. Here are a few things to expect in the new report cards:

  • Ohio is still not giving schools or districts an overall grade during this transition. Those won't come until the 2017-18 report card.
  • You will, however, see new grades for six "components" – K-3 Literacy, Progress, Achievement, Gap Closing, Graduation Rate and Prepared for Success – that will eventually be combined for overall grades. Though report cards were divided into these components last year, this year is the first where they will have grades.
  • Click here for a description of each.
  • As in the past, a C grade for the Value-Added measure is a good grade. Value-added is a measure of students' academic growth that estimates whether students learned the expected amount in a single school year, or more, or less.
  • Schools where kids learn the expected amount of material receive a C. If they learn more than the state expects, they receive a higher grade. And if they learn less, they have lower grades.
  • But a C grade means the school and students did what was expected.
  • This key Value-Added measure will start including many more subjects, grades and scores.
  • In the past, this score used to include scores from just math and English tests. This year, it will include scores from 5th and 8th grade science tests, 6th grade social studies tests, and new English and math  end-of-course exams for high school students.
  • Because Value-Added used to measure just 4th through 8th grade students, this year's report cards may give us our first look at how much progress kids are making in high schools.
  • The K-3 Literacy grade confused a lot of people last year. It is not a measure of how well the youngest students read. I fact, if all younger students at your school read well, you won't be graded on this at all.
  • As a state guide explains, "The K-3 Literacy component looks at how successful the school is at getting struggling readers on track to proficiency in third grade and beyond."
  • It only looks at students who are falling behind their peers on reading skills and how well the school is helping them catch up.
  • You'll still see separate grades for 10 separate measure of learning that have appeared in the past as part of those components.

The "Achievement" component is a good example of how these worked. Last year, the report card listed grades for "Performance Index" a composite of scores for multiple grades and tests, along with a grade for "Indicators Met," or how well districts met proficiency benchmarks.

Those two grades will still be listed on the report cards, but will also be combined into one Achievement grade.

The Ohio Department of Education is expecting results to be similar for students taking state tests online to those who take them with paper and pencil.

But this will be carefully watched by several districts, who complained that they received much lower Value-Added grades than expected last year when taking the state exams online, compared to those that took them with pencil and paper.

This year, the differences may not be as clear, since many more are taking tests online - 80% this year compared to 65% in 2014-15.

Demaria said parents should not overreact to any grades they see on report cards, but use them as starting points for asking questions at their children's schools. Children's school experience can depend on individual schools or teachers or many factors beyond just what can be tested.

"One of my messages is that there is more to what a school or district does for kids than what shows up on a report card," he said. "The report card is one tool in the toolbox of measurements."

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