Chagrin Valley and Geauga County public school superintendents have varying views on a proposal in the state legislature that would reform annual report cards to districts.

House Bill 200 was introduced by state Reps. Phil Robinson, D-Solon, and Don Jones, R-Freeport, to address what they called flawed metrics and punitive measures in the current district report cards handed out annually by the Ohio Department of Education and based on a number of factors including student standardized test results.

Rep. Robinson said that the current report card is confusing and often the grades do not reflect what actually takes place in the classroom, such as continuous improvement. One of the biggest changes is that HB 200 would remove letter grades from the report card and replace them with six performance ratings, such as exceeds expectations, meets expectations and in need of support. Although area superintendents said they were not satisfied with the current overall letter grade designation, they questioned whether this bill would make significant changes.

“I think it’s a better PR tool, honestly,” said Chagrin Falls Superintendent Robert Hunt. “With the letter grades, I think that was very misleading to the public, but I honestly don’t believe this report card, or these report cards, have a significant impact on teaching and learning in school districts.”

Rep. Robinson said that the six new ratings are more “targeted” than the letter grades and they would be easier for everyone to understand and assess. With the current report card, he said that the letter grades confuse parents, and they are not sure how to assess the information. The new performance ratings, however, would help schools respond and improve where necessary.

“Are we going to do the same thing for kids? Because we’re not. We still grade kids with letter grades, and that’s where I think the hypocrisy comes in, to an extent,” Superintendent Richard Markwardt of West Geauga Local School District said. “If districts are going to continue using letter grades for students, but then they say, ‘Well, we don’t want letter grades for ourselves,’ I think there’s a degree of hypocrisy.”

Superintendent John Stoddard of Berkshire Local Schools described the revised evaluation system as a “good idea.” He said that simplifying complicated measures down to a single letter grade is challenging and does not help a district determine what to improve for its students or how to make changes.

Rep. Robinson said that there were six goals with this legislation, including simplifying the report card, making it comply with federal guidelines and replacing the punitive approach with a proactive approach. Other goals included making the measurements fair and equitable, eliminating the design to pit schools against each other and only reporting on necessary information. He said that Ohio is one of 10 states that still uses a letter grade system to measure success of individual school districts.

“In the same way that kids are more than a letter grade, schools are more than a letter grade,” Rep. Robinson said. “The schools can better serve children with a better evaluation. That is at the heart of what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to find ways to simplify but keep accountability.”

He said that the state report card is at the heart of essential education policies in Ohio, such as which schools are eligible for the EdChoice voucher program, school takeovers through academic distress commissions and charter school accountability. Rep. Robinson also said that the report card impacts property values and real estate taxes as families in some cases use it to determine where they want to buy a house.

He gave two specific examples of changes in the gap closing and achievement categories. In the gap closing category, there are many subgroups of students. The progress of one subgroup can greatly impact the letter grade of that whole category, so subgroups with less than 20 students would be eliminated.

Superintendent Lynn Campbell of the Orange City School District said that as the size of subgroups decrease, they are less representative of the students, so eliminating the smaller subgroups is a positive change.

Berkshire’s Mr. Stoddard agreed with the subgroup proposal. “This would be a good thing for our district. The student performance from these subgroups is already reflected in the report card. The subgroups are another area that is set up to only hurt schools. Schools do not get credit, or increased scores for excellent performance in subgroups, they are only used to pull scores down.”

Rep. Robinson said that HB 200 would also make changes to the achievement category. The performance index is on a scale of 1-120 currently, but it is nearly impossible to get a perfect score. Instead, he said that the performance index would be based on 2018-2019 school data and the maximum score would be the average of the top 10 percent of districts. That number would be updated every five years by the Ohio Department of Education. The superintendents also supported this change.

“I think change in this area is not a bad thing,” Dr. Hunt said. The top score “120 was pretty much impossible to achieve and utilizing the performance of high-performing schools to set the bar makes a little more sense.”

Dr. Markwardt said that there is a “demonstrable correlation” between the socioeconomic status of a district and the achievement of its students. For this reason, state report cards can come across as an “apples to oranges” comparison of different districts.

Mr. Stoddard said that he would like to see the state report card place a value on the promotion of trades and hands-on learning experiences, rather than only relying on test scores.

Dr. Hunt said that HB 200 is an attempt to make progress in the reporting system. If state legislators are working to make a change, he said, “let’s make dramatic reform and do it the right way.”

Dr. Campbell said that the state report card has become an opportunity to “rank and rate” districts. It would make no difference to Orange if state testing disappeared, he said, because the district already conducts internal student assessments. Orange administers MAP testing (measure of academic progress) and reports the results to parents because the district is accountable to taxpayers, he said.

“No matter what the report card is, I want to see that it’s not blasted on [local media] listing schools 1-100,” Dr. Campbell said. “Anything to avoid all that, it’s a lot of negative attention for schools. We want to stop fueling the media frenzy over it. The report card compares and ranks the schools, but it should address their needs and help us reflect on practices to improve continuously.”

The bill had a hearing in the Primary and Secondary Education Committee. Rep. Robinson said that several groups are supporting HB 200 including the Ohio Parent Teacher Association, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, the Ohio School Boards Association and the Ohio Association of School Business Officials.

State Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, recently introduced Senate Bill 145, the companion bill. In this proposal, the state report cards would use ratings of one to five stars instead of letter grades. SB 145 also introduces a new early literacy component. Ohio Excels, a nonprofit organization to improve educational outcomes, supports this bill.

“While we have long supported using A-F letter grades, a rating system popular with parents, who are the primary audience of report cards, we believe using 1-5 stars will be an effective way to communicate student outcomes,” Lisa Gray, president of Ohio Excels, said in a written statement. “Maintaining five performance levels on the report card through a new star system will allow for comparisons over time so we can identify trends and growth. Keeping five levels also allows for simple updates to more than a dozen state policies that rely on report card results.”

There was a hearing for SB 145 in the Senate Primary and Secondary Education Committee last week.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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