Ohio schools get first report cards under new ‘star’ rating system
Report cards for the previous academic year — for more than 600 Ohio school districts and for individual buildings — have been released for the first time under a new rating system replacing A-F letter grades with one to five stars.
The ratings are the third effort in a decade to simplify all the data the report cards show.
There were six categories for ratings under the A-F system. Now there are five, though there are no ratings this year in the College, Career, Workforce and Military Readiness category.
And because of learning loss during the pandemic, Chris Woolard with the Ohio Department of Education said there is no overall star rating for districts and schools.
“So you could be a five star on achievement, but a three star on graduate. It's a bit more nuanced because it's not that kind of overall summative rating," Woolard said.
He said low-category ratings this year won’t send any districts into academic distress, though "there are some other things in terms of improvement requirements from a federal perspective that this data might actually trigger a school being identified for improvement requirements or something like that."
Woolard said there’s been some improvement in overcoming the decades-long achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and wealthier students. But he said the pandemic really hurt the lower-achieving group.
“You're going to see areas that are making some progress, but obviously it's still a big concern and we know that our most vulnerable students have been the most impacted," Woolard said. "So I think there's progress happening, but it's definitely an area where there needs to be work.”
State test scores in English and math improved for all racial and socioeconomic groups, and four-year graduation rates were at 87.2% for the second year in a row.
But the test score improvements were not to pre-pandemic levels, as 30% of kids missed more than 10% of instructional time last year.
The report cards got good grades from the state's teachers' unions.
The Ohio Education Association, the largest teachers union, said while more work needs to be done to improve the report card system, it celebrated the changes it asked lawmakers to enact.
“Gone are the misleading A-F grades, which gave an incomplete picture of a district’s performance at best. Gone are the draconian punishments for districts that failed to measure up to the cookie cutter standards of out-of-touch bureaucrats who clung to the report card letter grades to trigger state takeovers and wrest control from local parents and voters," OEA President Scott DiMauro said in a statement. "Here to stay is a commitment to a more accurate and transparent assessment system for Ohio’s public schools.”
“These report cards demonstrate something that teachers and school staff have observed: our students need more support to fully bounce back from the pandemic and remote learning disruptions in the last few years," said Ohio Federation of Teachers president Melissa Cropper in a statement. "While we believe the report cards could be more useful if they were less dependent on standardized test scores, they are helpful in determining where there are gaps that need to be addressed." But she said they don't reflect hard work by educators.
The A-F letter grade system had been phased in starting in 2013 under Gov. John Kasich, a Republican. His administration had pushed the letter grades as both a simple way to understand what's happening in schools but also a way to raise the standards for K-12 education. Former Superintendent Stan Heffner said he hoped the data would help districts learn from each other and not just be used for "bragging rights.”
But districts were compared to one another, and most schools received lower grades than suggested under the previous report card system, which had seven achievement levels from "excellent with distinction" to "academic emergency.”
It didn't take long for lawmakers to raise concerns about the letter grades. In 2017, former Rep. Mike Duffey, a Republican, proposed changing the report cards, saying they seem to show only that more diverse districts are scoring lower grades. He called the A-F letter grade system "utter trash" and "fake news" after Worthington City Schools, in his district, got the lowest grades since the letters were first used.
A 2019 study of the report card system further pushed the idea of eliminating the letter grades. Last year, a Republican-backed bill to scrap the letter grades and replace them with the star rating system was passed and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine.