Fewer districts and school buildings would face failing report-card grades under changes proposed by House Republicans in the revamped two-year budget bill.
Instead of the current letter grade, which is calculated using six factors -- including test scores, graduation rates, early grade reading improvement and academic progress -- an overall score for districts and school buildings would come down to one measurement.
As part of a wave of amendments added to the state spending bill, an overall grade would be calculated using either the value-added score, which measures progress over a school year, or the performance index, based on test scores, whichever is higher.
The move would reduce the number of Ohio school districts and buildings that receive overall "D" or "F" grades, and thus reduce the numbers that are subject to sanctions and penalties.
According to the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission, 41 Ohio school districts and 215 school buildings had overall "D" or "F" grades last school year, but they scored a "C" or higher on either the performance index or value-added measurements.
Lawmakers have been discussing the need to -- again -- change the state report card system. The Joint Education Oversight Committee has heard testimony from school district officials who said the report card's presentation of the academic measurements are limited and unfair.
Marc Schare, a former 12-year member of the Worthington Board of Education, told the committee that people barely notice the report card.
"Your efforts need to be geared towards making the report card relevant again," he said.
"I'm an accountability hawk who believes strongly in objective measurements because benchmarking against other districts is, in my opinion, the only way to truly know how well your district or school is performing," Schare said. "I think the state of Ohio and its leaders must do whatever they can to reverse the perceptions against standardized, objective measurements."
Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education-policy group that advocates for strong accountability measures, said in testimony to the House Finance Committee on May 6 that the proposed budget change would mask poor student achievement.
"While well-intentioned, this would result in a dramatic increase in grades around the state," he said. "Such an increase would make schools appear to be better-performing than they actually are and would result in a significant softening of accountability."
Ohioans deserve a full picture of school quality, Aldis said, "that considers both student achievement and growth over time, not one or the other."
The change also should raise overall grades for charter schools, said Tom Ash of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators. He supports the change but doesn't see the need for an overall district or building grade.
"From our perspective, we would just as soon eliminate the letter grade and report the raw data," he said. "People can then make their own comparisons. As soon as you assign a letter grade, you are assigning a value to that number."
The report cards should allow people to drill down into the data and make comparisons to similar districts, he said.
"What I'm sensing from legislators is a fairly broad sentiment that the report card needs to be revised," Ash said.
Other report card-related changes added by the House include:
* Giving school districts and school buildings a grade of "B" or higher on each report card measurement if the Department of Education fails to assign grades by Sept. 15 each year. Also, if the department misses the Nov. 15 deadline for charter sponsor ratings, then those sponsors are at least rated "effective" for each component.
* Changing 12th-grade academic attainment scores for dropout-recovery charter schools, lowering the bar from 21 points total on seven end-of-course exams needed to receive a passing score to 18 points.
* Prohibiting the state from issuing report cards for dropout-recovery charter schools until the State Board of Education studies, and lawmakers enact, changes to the schools and their report cards. Aldis called this "incredibly worrisome" because it could mean the end of report cards for dropout-recovery schools.
* Resetting the clock for school districts facing potential penalties or sanctions for poor grades over multiple years, if lawmakers approve any change to how the state report card is calculated.
"You don't want to be comparing apples and oranges," Ash said. "It's an attempt to avoid comparing unlike elements."
But Aldis said the provision could also reset a district's EdChoice eligibility for private school vouchers, and charter school closures.
"The state would be in the unenviable position of either leaving the school report card untouched every year -- even if improvements are needed -- or gutting many of Ohio's school-choice programs," he said. "This language could destroy accountability, decimate school choice, or both."