Eye on Education

Does the New Ohio School Report Card System Penalize Schools for Diversity?

Diversity quilt

Oregon DOT / Flickr

For the first time this year, the report cards Ohio uses to rate public schools will give schools letter grades based on how much a school closes the achievement gap between different groups of students.

The grades are intended to answer the question, “Is every student in a school succeeding  regardless of race, income or disability?”

But some school leaders are concerned that the way the state measures how well schools close the achievement gap penalizes schools that are becoming more diverse.

“This is supposed to make it easier to understand the quality of education you’re getting in your children’s school district but it really feels very much like diverse, impoverished school districts are being set up,” said Amy Crouse, associate superintendent in the Princeton school district near Cincinnati.

Unintended consequences

Ohio isn’t the first state to discover what may be unintended consequences in designing new school grading systems.

In Indiana, former state superintendent Tony Bennett asked his staff to tweak that state’s new A-F grading formula in 2012 after he learned that one charter school founded by a major GOP donor would receive low marks.

Those relatively minor changes to the statewide accountability system had statewide implications: A total of 165 schools saw higher grades as a result of the “tweaks,” StateImpact Indiana reports.  Bennett, who went on to serve as Florida’s education chief, resigned earlier this month after the Associated Press reported on the grade changes.

The issue

The part of the new report cards that some Ohio school districts are concerned about is a new measure called “annual measurable objectives.” The measure compares how much progress students in certain groups make towards statewide goals for standardized tests in reading and math and for graduation rates.

It applies to each racial and ethnic group as well as low-income students, students with disabilities and students learning English.

But schools must have at least 30 students in a category — say African Americans — to get a grade for that category of students in the annual measurable objectives area.

The way the state calculates a school’s “annual measurable objectives” grade is based on the difference between the percentage of students who passed the state tests last year compared to this year.

If schools meet state goals for closing the achievement gap, they get an A for the measure.

If they make partial progress towards that goal, they get partial credit–with one major exception: Schools that didn’t have at least 30 students in a particular category last year, but do this year, get an “F” for that category if they didn’t meet state goals–even if students made progress.

That means diverse schools in small and medium-sized school districts are more likely to face lower report card grades.

“I’m looking at significantly reduced report cards grades simply because I increased my population of subgroup students,” Crouse, the Princeton associate superintendent, said.

Schools get a separate “annual measurable objectives” score for each group of students. Those scores are combined to calculate the school’s overall grade for the measure. So again, the more diverse a school is, the less likely it is to earn an A for this measure.

Schools won’t get a single overall grade from the state this year or next. But in 2015, this achievement gap measure will be averaged with grades in other areas to give schools overall grades.

Grade “F”

It’s unclear exactly how many schools or districts risk getting F’s for their work to close the achievement gap. But the Princeton school district, a 5,000-student district where about 60 percent of students are from low-income families, is definitely one of them, Crouse said.

The Ohio Department of Education won’t publicly release school grades until later this week.

“I think we’ve been straight up from the get go that this is a more rigorous report card…It’s going to show that some districts aren’t doing a good job in all areas.”
–Ohio Department of Education spokesperson John Charlton

But an analysis of the most current Ohio Department of Education data available shows that if this report card system had been in place last year, more than 350 schools would have flunked this measure for at least one category of students if they failed to meet state goals. That’s about 10 percent of schools statewide.

And earlier this year, the Ohio Department of Education grade simulations showed nearly 90 percent of schools in the state’s largest urban districts and about 40 percent of schools statewide getting F’s on this achievement gap-closing measure.

Ohio Department of Education spokesperson John Charlton said the new report card system is intended to be tougher than the old one.

“I think we’ve been straight up from the get go that this is a more rigorous report card,” he said. ”It’s going to show that some district aren’t doing a good job in all areas.”

He pointed out that all school districts do have the chance to earn an “A” on the achievement gap measure–by fully meeting the state goal.

Tom Ash, governmental relations director for Ohio’s school superintendents association, said any report card system is bound to have elements that seem to affect some districts more than others.

For affected districts, that can be a big deal.

“And now they’ll have to add a caveat to the whole thing saying ‘This doesn’t take into account the improvements that were made,’” he said.


  • Again

    Thank you for bringing attention to this, Molly! I have been harping to anyone that would listen that the Closing the Achievement Gap measure is very misleading. Districts that have very little, if any, students from socioeconomically challenged homes are getting “A’s” while districts and schools that have high numbers/percentages of disadvantaged students, but are surpassing all expectations are getting lower marks. While the Feds have tied ODE’s hands somewhat, it seems the state could reconsider how this is reported statewide and give the much deserved credit to the schools that have the highest lift.

    • Ed

      It is unbelieveable that schools with the most challenges and diverse populations will be unfairly assessed within this new “rigorous” report card. Schools with transitioning populations…meaning one year they have 30 students in that sub group and the following year they don’t have that magic number then the following year do have 30 students in that subgroup will be unfairly penalized! Schools with little diversity and stablized populations will not be unfairly graded. How is that tougher when it is flawed? A report card that is flawed in its reporting purposes is not accurate and should not be validated!
      Secondly, where are the charter schools with the report card requirements, required mandates, and their ability not to report out how their students perform? While I believe that a parent has the right to choose to educate his or her child wherever that parent desires, this new system of accountablity is flawed and cheats the taxpayers from truly knowing how all children are performing. Stop the hidden agendas, stop the dismanteling of public education, and start advocating for all children…not just advocating for wealthy districts with little diversity and charter schools who most likely are not educating students to the same degree that most public schools are educating children. If mandates apply to one group of children then is should apply to all children! Stop implementing FLAWED…as you read above in the article…procedures/assessments. It is time to take back our children’s education and educate/prepare our future!

  • Anthony Dallmann-Jones

    Leave it to Ohio, where kids still get paddled under Neanderthal discipline codes, to skyrocket us back to the 50s. Just when we started making headway on educating the public about the lack of validity in relying on a single letter grade or percentile score to represent “success”, a state department of education institutes this ridiculous practice. Duh and double duh.

  • Steve

    An unreasonable system that negatively impacts districts that are working the hardest, and can result in impacts on property values. Unfair to taxpayers as well as the kids and staff. I’m all for accountability and transparency. The achievement gap is an issue associated with poverty, and cultural issues …this accountability system implies school are the cause of achievement gaps and that schools are fully and independtly capable of closing them … I do not agree. It is much more complicated. Achievement gaps are foundational caused by other societal issues…schools schools should be encouraged and rewarded for tackling them head on and making progress. Not punished for not perfectly solving a nearly impossible dilemma (circle of poverty) that the rest of society has made poor progress with.

  • exrep….now indp

    A punitive system designed to undermine and lead to the privatization of the 1/2 trillion education industry. When 40% of the students entering US Public Schools are born illegitmately (some subgroups in the 50′s and 60′% Heritage Foundation statistics) and poverty is rising in the same socio-economic areas, blaming the schools for the education issues is like blaming New Jersey for being in the way of Hurricane Sandy.
    Having experience as a principal in a Urban District the school in most cases provides some social fabric to hold the community together. The parasitic community schools and electronic schools lend nothing to this effort and provide profits to the proprieters and false hopes to those who are hooked in. When the ECOTS and the White Hat managements of the world are milking 100′s of millions of taxpayer dollars a year from the system with horrendous results there is no repercussions. What we get is Governor Kasich being the keynote speaker at graduations(ECOT 2011) and the ex-director of Education from White Hat now acting as the Republican Caucus advisor on Education (2013).
    It is surreal what these clowns are getting away with!!! Nobody calls them on it.

  • vernice

    I am appalled at the idiocy of the State of Ohio and all the representatives who cannot see through the veil…..; everything put in place is done so for the corporations to disable, discredit and dissolve public education….This has been an ongoing process for the last 45 years or so. Wake up America; if we were/are so concerned about education and growth, we would follow Finland and South Korea, i.e., shorten, NOT lengthen school days and year, eliminate textbooks for every student and utilize class sets, problem based and project based education. We are still stuck on STUPID and blame TEACHERS. It is not the teachers or any of the educators. Take a look at the greedy people in Ohio, for example, our governor and the representatives who support that Despicable organization called WHITE HAT MANAGEMENT, among others!!!!!!!!! Let’s take back our schools. Let’s make our representatives accountable and tell those who have the authority to stop sending our PUBLIC MONEY back to the US Govt. STOP ALLOWING WHITE HAT TO DEVELOP MORE FACTORY EDUCATION PITS!
    V. Williams

  • Ric

    This system is simply designed to hurt charter schools. It is not hard to get reports and find where any school has a weakness. Every school district has them. Anyone can create a statistical formula to prove anything they want to support. Those that hate charter schools and want them gone (primarily brick and mortar school districts and the teachers unions) have found a way to come up with a formula that can attack charter schools where they are weakest. By creating that formula they can come up with a statistic that will cause them to fail so they can discredit them and close them. What I don’t understand is why the fuss? Why are public schools feeling disrespected because of charter schools? People make choices in where they will be educated all of the time. Students make choices based on quality of education they feel they will receive in our nations universities and colleges all of the time. Parents make decisions on school choice all of the time. If they do not like the schools their children attend, often times they will find a district they feel they want their child to attend and they will move there. However, financially strapped families do not have the ability to move to a better district. They are stuck, and without choice stuck in a school that their student may not be able to succeed in for many reasons. Many people make a choice for a charter school for other reasons than education as well. Sometimes it is safety, physical ailments, sports or entertainment career, pregnancy, ill parents, technical training, etc. Whatever that reason for that decision, families should be able to choose where they educate their children. I believe not allowing them that opportunity is a form of education monopoly. If schools are financially sound, able to support themselves, have a curriculum and staff that meets the state requirements, then they should not be shut down for any reason. I believe if evaluated on equal ground, there is nothing wrong with grading/evaluating school districts and charter schools by student success. However, this grading and evaluation should only be done to educate families on the schools are having in educating students, not to take away school choice. Public schools do nothing but show their fear and hurt feelings when they do this. Be better than the charter schools and students, as well as state funding will return to you. Coming up with an excuse to close charter schools is a gutless. Education choice is about helping families get involved in their childs education. Parent involvement is a good thing. Parents are responsible for their children and their education. No one, not even school district lines should limit their choice. Get over yourself already public schools.

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