Central Ohio school district leaders share their thoughts on the Ohio Department of Education's annual state report cards, particularly on the issue of whether the information is understandable or fair, or if it provides an accurate measure of a district’s academic performance.

Andy Culp and Jamie Lusher, Grandview Heights City Schools

Grandview Heights City School District Superintendent Andy Culp said district leaders are “all for accountability.”

“Whatever steps the state legislature or the state department of education take to revamp or revise the state report card, we will do our level best to thoroughly monitor how we are performing under the format and adjust what we are doing so that our students can experience the best success possible,” he said.

The report card’s current format could be revised to make it more useful to parents, Culp said.

“The grade card as it’s presented now is ... a measuring-stick comparison of how districts are doing one versus another,” Culp said.

What it doesn’t do as well, he said, is give parents and community members a detailed overview of what each district is doing for students in and out of the classroom.

“That’s probably more important in judging how well your district is serving your child,” Culp said.

“The metrics set by the state report card really only reflect a sliver of everything we are doing as a district,” chief academic officer Jamie Lusher said.

The district is preparing a profile that will offer parents a wealth of data regarding instruction and initiatives in the district, she said.

The document will serve as a review of what’s happening in the district, and also will help set goals for how Grandview can better serve its students, Lusher said.

“It’s a way for us to hold ourselves more accountable,” she said.

The state report card would be a more-valuable tool for parents if districts were able to provide “evidence in the form of data of what we are doing in our schools and the impact it’s having on students,” Lusher said. “I think that could be a far superior metric to measure us by rather than simple letter grades.”

The state report card “is not an obsession” for Grandview schools, Culp said.

“We don’t use the state report card to formulaically drive instruction for our students,” he said. “We continue to be reflective of how we can guarantee and assure our students’ success. Our focus is on the three stated objectives in our continuous-improvement plan, two of which are academically related.”

Grandview earned a wide range of grades on the 2016-17 state report card, including a B in the Prepared for Success category, C’s in gap closing and K-3 literacy, an A for graduation rate and a D in the progress component. The district earned a B for meeting the benchmarks in 20 of 24 state tests.

Bradford Faust, South-Western City Schools

"The biggest problem we've heard from parents is not that they don't understand the letter grades, but that they don't have clarity about the calculations and factors that were used to determine the letter grades," said Bradford Faust, the South-Western City School District's assistant superintendent of curriculum. "It's always important to remember that these grades cards represent a snapshot in time, measuring what was happening at one point in time.

"I think more could be done so that the report cards better reflect what's happening in your district throughout the school year," he said. "We all want academic success for our students, but the grade card in its current format does not take into account some of the nonmeasurable factors facing students in our district and other districts."

That includes such issues as poverty, hunger, student diversity and the number of students for whom English is not their first language, he said.

The state report card could be improved to provide a more complete overview of a district, Faust said. As it is designed, the document "serves more as a tool to compare your district to other districts, and we all are different with different needs and different issues," he said.

"It's not always an apples-to-apples comparison. We have to address certain issues that a smaller, less diverse district doesn't really have to face," he said.

In the 2016-17 state report card released in September, South-Western received F's in the gap-closing and progress components. It received D's for achievement and prepared for success, a C for graduation rates and a B in K-3 literacy.

--Alan Froman/ThisWeek

Steve Barrett, Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools

Steve Barrett, superintendent of Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools, said the district is looking forward to learning more and engaging with lawmakers as needed in the process.

“Within the Gahanna Jefferson Schools, we believe assessments are best when teachers engage students in understanding and improving their learning, motivating them to increase the quality of their work. It is difficult to use largescale assessments to improve learning,” he said.

“The results of state assessments come back to districts many weeks after students take them and while students are home on summer break.

“We believe the state report card needs changed, and we agree that it is unnecessarily confusing. More than 90 percent of districts received a D or F (80 percent received an F) on the Gap Closing Indicator of the state report card. This kind of outcome raises legitimate questions about both the validity and reliability of such a measurement tool,” he said.

“While the final bill is yet to be released, proposals to reduce the number of letter grades on the state report and to focus more on the growth measures are worthy of continued dialogue,” Barrett said.

John Kellogg, Westerville City Schools

John Kellogg, superintendent of the Westerville City School District, said he thinks there are parts of the report card that are informative and help the district, while other parts of the report card are not so helpful.

“State officials have said the report card system is designed to help districts with their continuous improvement efforts, and that seeing D’s or F’s on a report card doesn’t mean a school or a district is failing. I completely agree,” he said.

“I would not be adverse to the elimination of all letter grades, as long as the new the reporting system provides a more accurate reflection of performance, is easy for everyone to understand, and provides more clarity regarding what must be done to improve,” he said.

Kellogg said the district tracks data from state tests and state report cards to see how it is trending in performance.

“Even though letter grades were all over the place for us on the last report card, one thing that indicates an overall improvement in our students’ performance is the increased score on our performance index. That score only increases when students achieve at higher levels on their state tests,” he said.

“We also performed better on 15 of the tests and our average improvement was over 4 percent. Those are some of the trends we want to see continue,” he said.

Kellogg said the district appears to be headed in the right direction, despite state assessments changing frequently.

“The same test was used over the past two years, so that’s as far back as we can really go to make an “apples to apples” comparison of our performance,” he said.

“The state has been increasing their performance expectations of students and districts, too. On the last report card, expected proficiency levels went from 75 percent to 80 percent, and the state gave us very little time to get there. That impacted our grades last year. However, the data we monitor internally indicate that we could see improved performance on next year’s report card,” he said.

Kellogg said the district looks forward to seeing proposed changes and, if given the opportunity, participating in the discussion.

--Marla K. Kuhlman/ThisWeek

John Marschhausen, Hilliard City Schools

Hilliard City Schools Superintendent John Marschhausen previously has expressed concerns about the state report cards.

He said plans suggested by state Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) are important for two reasons.

“First of all, Rep. Duffey is embracing the complexities of public education,” Marschhausen said. “It’s not practical to evaluate the performance of Ohio’s schools with a simple letter grade. Rep. Duffey is advocating for a more comprehensive approach to sharing information about school performance. When we take into account our diversity, we can more accurately share the work taking place in our public schools.

“Secondly, Rep. Duffey has a passion for bringing parents into the conversation. In Hilliard, (district leaders) strive to embrace our parents (as) our true partners in education; to inspire trust and confidence in the work we do as a school community; and to empower students to be lifelong learners. We are thankful that Mike Duffey is an advocate for strong public education.”

Trent Bowers, Worthington Schools

Worthington Schools Superintendent Trent Bowers said Duffey had listened to district leaders' concerns.

“We agree with Rep. Duffey that the current state report card is confusing and needs revamped,” Bowers said. “Mike has included our thoughts in his proposal and we appreciate his partnership.”

Michael Sawyers, New Albany-Plain Local Schools

New Albany-Plain Local School District leaders “remain focused on what the current reality is” and on how students can achieve their best outcomes, said Superintendent Michael Sawyers.

“There will always be some form of assessment from the state and that remains our focus – to best prepare our students for the material they will be expected to know,” Sawyers said. “How the ... results are later grouped, tallied and presented back for the public to understand is always going to be in flux and up to debate.

“Our focus is to live in the world that we already know and provide our parents, staff and community the tools to understand the results and what they mean. For New Albany-Plain Local, our results have been favorable, moving the district from No. 64 in the state to No. 38, and we will continue to press forward.”

--Neil Thompson/ThisWeek

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