Grades matter, but grades need to evaluate what matters.

Grades matter, but grades need to evaluate what matters.

In a March 9 Columbus Dispatch story about the new state school evaluations, Ohio's State Superintendent, Stan Heffner said, "Report cards will be easier to understand because the state will issue letter grades instead of using ratings like 'effective' and 'academic watch.'"

The letter grades may seem easier to understand, but the way in which they are decided is far from simple.

I attended a meeting on March 8 in which Bexley Superintendent Mike Johnson tried to explain to a group why, after 11 straight years of being rated "excellent with distinction," Bexley would be getting a B. Apparently, the calculations are a conglomerate of many diverse measures, not easily explained to the public and not necessarily measuring what truly matters in a district's curriculum.

According to Dr. Johnson: "The report card does not acknowledge quality issues such as supporting the arts, AP programming, world languages, gifted education, etc. Although our school district will get the B grade, the other indicators of a high quality education are not acknowledged or reinforced. The report card is minimalistic at best, because it ignores completely the efforts our school district and community are taking to support a high quality, well-rounded educational experience for its children."

The new state rating system is a business model. Public schools are not businesses. Public schools teach all the students who come in the door: rich, poor, mentally or physically challenged or outstanding, emotionally healthy or not. There are few or no businesses in which there is no control over raw materials.

Also, the goal of an education is not to have a good test score. Really. The goal of education is to help children explore their potential and become lifelong learners. Districts with no funding for the arts are cheating their students out of a well-rounded education. Districts that teach only what is necessary to get that state "A" are not doing the full job.

We are in the 21st century, and the skills needed for this century - the ability to work in groups, to think critically, to communicate well and to think outside the box - are not necessarily the skills that are being tested. If Ohio wants to create jobs and be competitive, we will need people who have been trained in these skills.

I would like to see a report card that acknowledges districts striving to go forward, not those striving to put out uniform widgets. Who designed this new report card? What was their goal? To spend the least? To have the simplest answer to complicated questions? To make schools look bad? To improve education?

If the latter is the case, I believe this new system will fail. We should be encouraging innovation and creativity, not doing our best to shame districts that are working tirelessly to help children learn.

Everyone should write to their legislators and demand that this system of rating schools be changed from a business model to a 21st-century model and that those who develop the ratings consult with superintendents and teachers while they do it. Don't wait for school districts to waste valuable time and resources trying to work the numbers.

Deborah Forsblom is a music specialist at Cassingham Elementary School.